It has been a long four years since construction began in 2017, but 2022 has come and with that the new 10-lane George Massey Bridge replacing the existing tunnel, and Highway 99 corridor improvements are now complete and fully open for public use as of this morning, January 13.
The new 10-lane structure spans nearly three kilometres over the Fraser River, and offers a grand welcome for those travelling into the Metro Vancouver area.
The official construction groundbreaking of this project was held on December 1, 2017, and this morning the ribbon was cut for the crossing’s official opening — on time, and on budget, as originally planned.
The entire highway corridor improvement project, spanning 30 km from the Surrey-Delta border to Sea Island Way in North Richmond, has brought much awaited relief for drivers, commercial vehicles, transit users, and cyclists alike.
The now closed and soon to be removed George Massey Tunnel was opened to traffic on May 23, 1959.
George Massey originally advocated for a six-lane structure, but the government of the era insisted that a four-lane structure would be sufficient. Due to this lack of foresight, the George Massey Tunnel had been amongst the worst traffic snarls in Western Canada for decades, far too frequently taking well over 30 minutes to over an hour to cross.
Luckily, successive provincial governments learnt much from this past mistake and no longer under-builds critical infrastructure.
If they didn’t learn this valuable lesson, we wouldn’t have the twice hourly bi-directional West Coast Express commuter rail running all seven days of the week, the SkyTrain Canada Line with its future-proof 100-metre length platforms to handle up to five-car trains, the new six-lane replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, the free-flowing South Fraser Perimeter Road (Highway 17), the second Okanagan Lake bridge crossing, and now the new George Massey Bridge and its associated Highway 99 upgrades to the standards expected of a developed country.
There was some controversy over the $2.6 billion cost of the winning bid, even though it was $900 million under the project’s original budget of $3.5 billion. But with that money well spent, the people of British Columbia have secured themselves a long-term solution for one of the most important transportation arteries in the province.
Not only is Highway 99 the most important north-south arterial road corridor on the South Coast, linking the most populous region of the province to the United States, it is also the primary connection between the western half of Metro Vancouver, including Vancouver itself, and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal.
This importance did not go unnoticed, which is why the full scope of the project involved so much more than just the bridge itself and personal vehicle use.
The entire corridor was widened and upgraded. Several major interchanges, including Steveston and Ladner, were completely redesigned and rebuilt. This has enabled direct free-flowing access for trucks into South Richmond’s growing industrial businesses, and the creation of a modern median rapid bus system, which is complete with full-scale median stations, and a direct free-flowing, grade-separated, transit-only ramp for TransLink buses accessing Canada Line’s Bridgeport Station — for both the northbound and southbound direction of buses.
Daily Hive Urbanized has taken this unique opportunity to interview several users of the new George Massey Bridge and upgraded Highway 99.
“It’s a night and day difference,” said commuter Jim, as he arrived to work early. “I no longer have to worry about the counter flow system reducing the highway to one lane.”
“Where else in the developed world is a primary freeway route in an urban region approaching three million people reduced to a single lane daily? Maybe zero now, seeing that the new George Massey Bridge is here! Working as an elevator mechanic that needs to drive from site to site it makes keeping a schedule so much more reliable!”
Trucker Betty was also happy to share her thoughts. “I’m often driving back and forth between the port terminal in Tsawwassen, Sea Island, and Richmond, and this new bridge has freed up so much economic potential.”
“Best of all, the rebuilding of the Steveston interchange really took in mind the growing industrial lands in South Richmond. Not to mention that, unlike with the old tunnel, more types of goods can now use this major crossing,” continued Trucker Betty.
The benefits though aren’t only for those driving vehicles, as we heard from TransLink rider Tomoko.
“The median bus lanes, the direct ramps, all of it now allows buses travelling to and from the Canada Line, Delta, Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, South Surrey and White Rock to operate so quickly and efficiently!” said transit user Tomoko.
“Unlike the old narrow shoulders that were jerry-rigged into bus lanes, there are no safety issues anymore involving broken down vehicles or having buses dissect across all on- and off-ramps, which created unnecessary hazardous points of conflict. Could you imagine if a major multi-billion dollar project retained such a laughable system? Luckily we now have this fantastic transit corridor, similar to other full-scale highway median rapid bus systems found throughout the developed world!”
Cyclist Carl enthusiastically shared his opinion with us too.
“First of all, the views from the bridge are spectacular, but best of all is the full-scale cycling network that has been built connecting this new crossing to the local cycling networks in Delta and Richmond. I sure won’t miss needing to use the shuttle bus to cross through the old tunnel!” said cyclist Carl.
Richmond City Councillor Loreena gave us an interesting take on the now-completed project.
“Richmond was definitely hesitant about this project at first, preferring a new tunnel, but now seeing this bridge standing before us, the feeling has completely changed,” said the councillor.
“This structure will become a celebrated symbol of the City of Richmond, akin to the Lions Gate Bridge, the Alex Fraser Bridge, the Golden Ears Bridge, and all the bridge projects that were controversial at their conception, but now inseparable from the cities they represent.”
The councillor also added that Richmond City Council learnt its past mistakes from overly focusing on aesthetics before function.
“I can’t believe my predecessors preferred a street-level Canada Line train running through traffic on No. 3 Road from Bridgeport Station to Richmond-Brighouse Station because of aesthetics, instead of the elevated train that we have today and is not affected by any traffic! Can you imagine if aesthetics were repeated again as another excuse, and won?”
Perhaps most important of all was the comment we received from the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“Seeing it completed today, it is very clear that it would have been a big mistake to have canceled this project after the 2017 provincial election. First of all nearly $100 million of work had already been done in design, pre-loading, and relocating utilities at that time. Furthermore, going back to the drawing board would have just wasted time, perhaps pushing the opening date for a new crossing as far back as 2030!” said the Ministry in a statement.
“Then there would have been the inflated cost, perhaps as high as $4.15 billion! That would have been $1.55 billion more expensive than the $2.6 billion we just spent! Heck, we could have wasted the funds we used to cover the cost of the full Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension from King George Station to Langley Centre on such a silly maneuver!”
The Ministry further elaborated on how taxpayers would have gotten much less in return with a significantly higher cost by just waiting almost another decade.
“Could you imagine that today, instead of trucks, cars, buses and cyclists crossing this new structure, we were still using the old tunnel with its narrow lanes and seismic risk? Also, it’s likely that such a theoretical course of action, while costing billions more, would have been highly reduced in scope, such as retaining the shoulder bus lanes and only performing minimal band-aid improvements to interchanges,” continued the Ministry.
“Now that would have been politics at its worst. Happily, our government put British Columbians before itself and continued with the project, even though it was initiated by the previous government.”
It is clear that the new George Massey Bridge project has checked all the appropriate transportation boxes in a timely and cost effective manner.
A long-term solution that cut no corners.
There truly was light at the end of the tunnel.
Happy commuting for all commuters and travellers across the now completed and open George Massey Bridge!
Disclaimer: This is a satirical opinion piece written as an “opening day” article for the original plans to build the 10-lane George Massey Bridge and its associated Highway 99 upgrades, based on the original timeline for starting construction in 2017 for an opening in 2022. The project, which received a $2.6-billion bid from a contractor, was cancelled by the then newly-elected BC NDP provincial government in 2017. The provincial government is now planning a scaled-back new replacement immersed tunnel by 2030 for $4.15 billion.
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