Delta Mayor says Massey Tunnel replacement must include new transit

Dec 18 2018, 5:19 am

The City of Delta has expressed its concerns over the BC NDP provincial government’s possible new direction and timeline for replacing the ageing George Massey Tunnel.

On Monday, Claire Trevena, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, released the findings of an independent review that had been conducted on the previously planned $3.5-billion, 10-lane new bridge project.

She said the report’s findings indicated a new 10-lane was not needed as it would provide too much capacity and throw off the Metro Vancouver’s livability ambitions by increasing car use.

Instead of continuing the BC Liberals’ previous project, the provincial government says it will develop a business case for an alternative crossing that involves constructing a new six-to-eight lane bridge or a six-to-eight lane immersed tunnel, with the existing 1959-built, four-lane tunnel possibly being retained and incorporated into the improved road network.

However, Delta Mayor George Harvie says a timeline of completing the business case by fall 2020 is “a completely unacceptable timeframe for our residents and businesses.”

As the previous bridge project has been effectively cancelled, Trevana says the provincial government is proceeding with $40 million worth in short-term improvements to the existing tunnel, such as new LED lighting and upgraded alarms, water pumps, drainage, ventilation, and fire and electrical systems.

Construction on the new 10-lane bridge was originally scheduled to begin in early-2018 for completion in 2023.

“The people south of the Fraser are not prepared to wait eight to nine years for an improvement to their quality of life and daily commute,” he said. “We need to do everything possible to push the government to implement a solution so that we can reduce this traffic bottleneck well in advance of the current anticipated timeframe.”

Harvie also highlighted the possible absence of dedicated new bus lanes along the Highway 99 corridor and on the new replacement crossing as a cost-cutting measure being considered by the provincial government.

There could be bus lanes on the shoulder lanes of the route, instead of the extensive bus and HOV-only plan that was included in the 10-lane bridge design.

The cancelled new Steveston interchange as part of the previous 10-lane bridge replacement project for the George Massey Tunnel. (Government of BC)

But he says he wants to see any project include dedicated rapid bus lanes and enhanced transit at the onset, with the bus lanes designed in a way that allows the space to be converted into a light rail transit right-of-way in the future.

“Part of the solution is to get people out of their cars and using public transit, continued Harvie. “The citizens and businesses of Delta continue to be underserved by transit – we need reliable and efficient bus service to this area to reduce the number of vehicles on our roadways and highways.”

In addition, Harvie wants assurances that the project does not remove any further land from Delta’s share of the region’s Agricultural Land Reserve, and that the provincial government conducts a full environmental assessment on the project.

Overall, according to Harvie, any project needs to a “robust solution” that addresses both existing congestion levels and the region’s long-term transportation needs beyond a 50-year window.

With any of the alternative six-to-eight lane replacement options, the independent report estimated the capacity provided would only meet traffic demands by 2045, when the same level of congestion experienced in the existing tunnel will return.

Currently, the route sees an average of about 80,000 vehicles per day.

The City of Delta has been at odds with the City of Richmond over the matter of the crossing in recent years; the former has vocally advocated for a new high-capacity bridge, while the latter wants a twinned tunnel that utilizes the existing tunnel and provides less capacity than a 10-lane bridge.

But Harvie, who was elected as Delta’s Mayor in November, says he wants to turn a new leaf and work collaboratively with Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, and Tsawwassen First Nations Chief Bryce Williams to explore options for expediting the project’s process.

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