Metro Vancouver mayors agree on need for new 8-lane George Massey Tunnel

Apr 26 2019, 2:45 pm

After years of infighting, the mayors of five Metro Vancouver municipalities that are most affected by the George Massey Tunnel bottleneck have come to a consensus on what should replace the aging Fraser River crossing between Delta and Richmond.

A formal letter to Premier John Horgan — signed by Delta Mayor George Harvie, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, and White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker — written in late-March informs the local government level’s preference for a tunnel option, with a deep bored tunnel specifically expressed for consideration.

This solution also has the support of the Tsawwassen First Nation and Musqueam Indian Band.

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Built-in capability for future rail transit

According to the mayors, the new replacement tunnel should have eight lanes, including six lanes for regular traffic and freight, plus two additional lanes for rapid transit bus service.

This effectively doubles the lane capacity of the existing 1959-built, four-lane tunnel, and it is just two lanes less than the now-cancelled, $3.5-billion, 10-lane toll bridge project with extensive bus-only and HOV measures, spearheaded by the previous BC Liberal provincial government.

The mayors also stated their desire for built-in capacity to convert the bus-only lanes to rail in the future, including consideration for potential high-speed rail.

Moreover, according to the mayors, the new crossing should be designed to serve the needs of the region to at least 2100.

George Massey Tunnel

Portal into the existing George Massey Tunnel. (Government of BC)

This solution was presented to the provincial government after BC Minister of Transportation Claire Trevana requested Metro Vancouver’s municipal governments in December 2018 to convene and propose a regionally-acceptable solution for consideration.

“We are pleased to report on the outcome of a meeting of key Metro Vancouver Mayors and First Nation Chiefs held on February 21, 2019,” reads the letter.

“During this meeting, there was agreement that the Province should take immediate action to solve the traffic congestion problem at the George Massey Tunnel.”

A 2030 completion is far too late

But the mayors expressed deep concern over the provincial government’s new potential timeline for the completion of a new crossing as late as 2030. Given the crossing’s ongoing impact on regional residents, they want a new crossing built earlier — no later than 2025 or 2026.

If the bridge project had not been cancelled by the BC NDP provincial government, construction on a new crossing would have begun in early-2018 and completed in 2023.

Instead, there has been more study. Late last year, Trevana released the findings of an independent report that evaluated the 10-lane bridge design and proposed alternative options.

The report indicated a smaller bridge with six to eight lanes or an immersed tunnel with up to eight lanes would meet traffic demands up to 2045, when the same level of congestion experienced in the existing tunnel will return. But according to Trevana, a 10-lane bridge was not the solution either as it would provide too much additional capacity.

Artistic rendering of the now-cancelled 10-lane bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel. (Government of BC)

As a cost-cutting measure, the report suggested abolishing extensive bus-only or HOV lanes proposed in the original bridge project, which included integral improvements to the Highway 99 corridor. Without proper dedicated travel lanes, the report recommended placing the bus lanes on the shoulder lanes of the highway.

Since the release of the report, the provincial government has been conducting a new business case on new options and intends to release its next round of findings by the fall of 2020.

Model of the now-cancelled three-level interchange at Steveston on the north end of the bridge with a major bus transfer area. (Government of BC)

Avoid burdening Oak Street Bridge with more congestion

In their recent letter, the mayors also noted they reached consensus on a number of supplementary design parameters and considerations for a new crossing and the overall Highway 99 corridor.

The provincial government, according to the mayors, should evaluate improvements for the entire Highway 99 corridor to fully realize the benefit of the new significant multi-billion dollar investment of building a new crossing, including the existing congestion at the South Surrey interchanges.

But this must address the City of Richmond and City of Vancouver’s concerns regarding excess road capacity, the risk of increasing private vehicle usage, and the possibility that additional traffic volumes on Highway 99 will worsen congestion further up north at the Oak Street Bridge and along Oak Street within Vancouver.

Model of the now-cancelled three-level interchange at Steveston on the north end of the bridge with a major bus transfer area. (Government of BC)

Additionally, concerns raised by the City of Richmond and City of Delta over local impacts at interchanges or access points should be addressed. Any impact on agricultural land should be minimized.

A unique consensus was also reached on the nature of the environmental study for the new tunnel: “The project should not create additional potentially costly, lengthy or prohibitive environmental challenges or reviews,” adding that the provincial government “will need to decide one way or another if it can support any proposal involving in-river works, given the First Nation and environmental concerns. That will set the direction for us to work collaboratively to find a solution to what is now one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Canada.”

More funding for transit improvements requested

Given that a new crossing could be more than a decade away, Trevana announced last year that the provincial government will provide $40 million in funding for new interim upgrades to the existing tunnel, such as new LED lighting inside the tunnel and on the highway approaches, and upgrades to alarms, water pumps, drainage, ventilation, and fire and electrical systems.

However, the mayors want more interim action. In their letter, they requested further funding to help directly tackle the route’s traffic congestion. They want the provincial government to provide TransLink with additional funding for higher-frequency transit services along the route.

george massey bridge

Artistic rendering of the now-cancelled 10-lane bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel. (Government of BC)

The provincial government is already involved in another new bridge project in the region, as it took over the $1-billion replacement of the 1937-built Pattullo Bridge from TransLink in 2018. If all goes as planned, the new four-lane replacement will be ready by 2023.

Currently, the existing George Massey Tunnel and Pattullo Bridge each see average traffic volumes of about 80,000 vehicles per day.

Both structures are also prone to collapse during a moderately-powerful seismic event. In the case of the Pattullo Bridge, engineers with TransLink previously stated that the bridge could potentially collapse from high winds.

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