There will officially be no 10-lane bridge to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel, as the BC NDP provincial government has opted to undertake a new feasibility study for the aging crossing route between Delta and Richmond.
Earlier this morning, Claire Trevena, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, released the findings of the independent report by Stan Cowdell of Westmar Advisors that evaluated the BC Liberals’ bridge project and proposed possible alternative options.
Instead of proceeding with the previous government’s plans, the provincial government will go back to the drawing board and conduct a new business case on new options by the fall of 2020.
According to Trevana, the government’s interpretation of Cowdell’s report is that a $3.5-billion, 10-lane bridge is not needed and would provide too much additional capacity.
“A 10-lane bridge was the wrong project for the region and flawed from the start,” she said. “It left out key considerations such as community alignment, livability, and cost. We heard that loud and clear from Metro Vancouver mayors.”
The report indicates a smaller bridge with six to eight lanes or an immersed tunnel with up to eight lanes would meet traffic demands by 2045, however, the same level of congestion experienced in the existing tunnel will return at that time.
Options that retain and incorporates the existing tunnel could also be considered.
Extensive bus or HOV lanes in the previous bridge project as part of the Highway 99 corridor improvements could be abolished as a cost-cutting measure. Instead, the report suggests placing bus lanes on the shoulder lanes of the route.
The provincial government received the Cowdell report in June 2019. It commissioned his firm to produce an independent review in fall 2018, shortly after deciding to suspend the bridge and the procurement process that was occurring at the time.
“Mr. Cowdell’s review revealed there are better options for the region and we need to take a closer look at those options that will have the same benefits of cutting congestion and fitting the region’s needs,” Trevana continued.
The provincial government will be working with the Mayors’ Council, TransLink, and First Nations from January to April 2019 for the first steps on determining the new permanent solution for the crossing.
Instead, Trevana said there will be new interim measures to improve the existing 1959-built, four-lane tunnel’s safety.
The provincial government will spend $40 million to install new LED lighting inside the tunnel and on the highway approaches, as well as upgrade alarms, water pumps, drainage, ventilation, and fire and electrical systems. Highway 99 between the Steveston interchange and Highway 17 interchange.
Construction on the new 10-lane bridge was originally scheduled to begin in early-2018 for a completion in 2023.
It is not known when a new permanent solution with more capacity could be put into place. Currently, the route sees an average of about 80,000 vehicles per day.
“I really understand people’s frustrations. I know people want to be able to travel easily and smoothly through that crossing… people want to get to their families, they want to get to work, this is a huge bottleneck,” said Trevana.
The City of Delta has been at odds with the City of Richmond over the matter of the crossing in recent years; the former wants a new high-capacity bridge, while the latter wants a twinned tunnel that utilizes the existing tunnel. Across the region’s municipal governments, only the City of Delta has expressed strong support for the bridge.
“It is unfortunate the previous government did not do the work that was necessary to deal with it when they had the opportunity. We are engaging with communities to ensure we do it right… we have wasted a lot of time in not being able to engage with communities about what is in their interest.”
Early this year, the provincial government announced it would be taking over the $1-billion Pattullo Bridge replacement project from TransLink. If all goes as planned, the new four-lane replacement bridge will be ready by 2023.
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