The current construction timeline to build the $3.5-billion, 10-lane bridge that will replace the aging George Massey Tunnel has been cancelled as the new BC NDP provincial government has opted to send the project to an independent review.
According to a release, the government is currently in the process of recruiting an individual with expertise in high infrastructure construction, transportation planning, and traffic engineering to lead the technical review.
The review will also make recommendations on options for improving or replacing the existing four-lane crossing.
In the lead up to the recent provincial election, both the BC NDP and BC Greens were highly critical of the BC Liberals’ decision-making process for the bridge project.
“The review will focus on what level of improvement is needed in the context of regional and provincial planning, growth and vision, as well as which option would be best for the corridor, be it the proposed 10-lane bridge, a smaller bridge or tunnel,” reads the release.
Additionally, following the government’s recently implemented policy to abolish bridge tolls, the new analysis will examine the impact of how the removal of tolls will affect the replacement project.
War of words: Richmond vs. Delta
Metro Vancouver’s Mayors’ Council – particularly municipal officials from both Richmond and Delta – will be engaged to “ensure that any plans for this corridor reflects their ideas and fits into the overall vision for the region.”
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie has been at odds with Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who is the only mayor in the region pushing for the project to proceed as planned. Brodie wants the government to consider building a smaller twinned tunnel crossing while Jackson argues that any tunnel option, including the retainment of the existing tunnel, poses a major seismic hazard.
Delta has been particularly vocal about their support, and even launched a public awareness campaign to save the project over the summer.
BC Greens respond to decision
The BC Greens issued statements in support of the BC NDP’s decision.
“I am glad that the government will review the options for this project,” said BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver. “In our Confidence and Supply Agreement, we agreed that transit and transportation infrastructure must be developed in cooperation with the Mayors’ Council in a way that reduces emissions, creates jobs and gets people home faster.”
BC Greens MLA Adam Olsen echoed Weaver, and added that “the project is not part of the Mayor’s Council 10 year plan for regional transportation. It is essential that such costly and major projects be planned in an integrated fashion in cooperation with municipal officials so that we can meet the transportation needs of British Columbians in the most efficient and cost-effective way.”
The project’s future
The previous government led by the BC Liberals had planned on selecting a builder for the project by the end of summer. Major construction would have started this fall for a completion in 2022.
However, that will no longer be the timeline as the project will not be budgeted for in the government’s capital plan until a new solution has been identified. Two bidding teams have been shortlisted, and they will be paid up to $2 million to help offset their costs on designing the replacement bridge to date.
About $66 million has already been spent on pre-construction work, which began in the spring, and acquiring property to prepare for the construction phase, and another $25 million has been spent by BC Hydro on relocation transmission power lines. The government says this work is required regardless of which option is chosen.
But at least one south of Fraser bridge improvement project proposed by the BC Liberals will be going ahead. Last month, the government announced a $70-million project to install a counterflow lane, using a moveable barrier system, on the Alex Fraser Bridge to expand the bridge into a seven-lane crossing will go to tender.