The provincial government has released its much-sought Project Definition Report for the controversial George Massey Tunnel replacement project, which is now being planned as a $3.5-billion, 10-lane toll bridge.
The project was first announced in 2013, and estimates earlier this year pegged the construction cost at $3 billion. The new $500-million increase to the budget includes not only the cost of bridge construction but also the new and expanded road network leading to and from the bridge as well as the decommissioning of the existing tunnel.
According to the government, construction costs will be recovered through user tolls, just like the Port Mann Bridge project, and potentially through infrastructure grants provided by the federal government. At this early stage of planning, there is no indication how much tolls will cost.
“This will be the largest bridge ever built in B.C.,”Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone said in a statement. “When completed, it will address what is now the worst traffic bottleneck in the province and bring travel time reliability to one of our most important transportation corridors, serving national, provincial and regional economies.”
The new bridge along the Highway 99 route will span a length of three kilometres over the Fraser River between Richmond and Delta. Proponents are planning to allocate four general travel lanes and one transit/HOV lane in each direction.
New interchanges will be built where Highway 99 intersects with Highway 17A, Steveston Highway, and Westminster Highway. As well, about 24 kilometres of Highway 99 will be widened to include one dedicated transit/HOV lane in each direction beginning from Highway 91 in Delta to Bridgeport Road in Richmond – near the south end of the Oak Street Bridge into Vancouver. Like the new Port Mann Bridge, the new bridge’s centre lanes can accommodate the future expansion of rail rapid transit.
Improvements to the crossing’s supporting road network will reduce the number of collisions by 35 per cent, the report notes. Collisions are highest today at merging points leading to the tunnel entrances and at the Highway 17A and Steveston Highway interchanges. When collisions occur, delays exceeding an hour can occur.
Commuters can expect travel time reductions of between 25 to 35 minutes a day with the new crossing.
The current four-lane tunnel crossing, built in 1958, is prone to collapse and flooding as it does not meet seismic standards. The tunnel sections were dropped into the bed of the Fraser River and covered with a protective layer of rock.
Approximately 80,000 vehicles use the existing counterflow-managed tunnel on a daily basis. It is a vital route for south of Fraser residents, traffic to U.S.-Canada border and B.C. Ferries’ Tsawwassen Terminal, and truck traffic, especially with the continued expansion of the port facilities in Delta. But congestion is problematic not only during the morning and evening peak hours but also mid-day.
The report states that 59 per cent of the tunnel’s northbound weekday traffic is bound for Richmond and 40 per cent is bound for Vancouver. It claims that no additional traffic is expected to drive over the Oak Street Bridge each day, although the bridge will remain congested because of the signal lights at the intersection of Oak and 70th streets in South Vancouver.
But traffic on the Alex Fraser Bridge will increase by 15 per cent. The provincial government expects a number of drivers will use the nearest crossing option to avoid paying tolls.
Construction on the new bridge could begin in early-2017 for a completion and opening in 2022.