Richmond and Delta worlds apart on Massey Tunnel project

0 489 Infrastructure

by Russell Hixson

The cities of Richmond and Delta in B.C. are worlds apart when it comes to the George Massey Tunnel.
A model of the concept for the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project shows what the bridge would look like facing south towards Deas Island. The project would span from Richmond to Delta, B.C.
A model of the concept for the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project shows what the bridge would look like facing south towards Deas Island. The project would span from Richmond to Delta, B.C. - Photo: PROVINCE OF B.C.

The City of Delta is making the case to replace the George Massey Tunnel with a new bridge that would span between the two cities. City officials argue that upgrading the existing tunnel is more costly with fewer benefits.

At a Delta City Council meeting in July, officials endorsed the recommendations of a new report that outlines why the aging George Massey Tunnel must be addressed, and why the only viable replacement crossing is a new bridge.

According to the report, the need to replace the existing tunnel with a new 10 lane bridge along the existing tunnel corridor has been studied in detail throughout the three-year environmental assessment process. This process included 145 technical and scientific reports and more than 14,000 pages of information pertaining to the project.

The tunnel was built in the 1950s, the report states, when seismic building standards weren't as advanced. The city believes the tunnel is not capable of withstanding a moderate to severe earthquake, nor is it technically feasible to upgrade the tunnel to meet current seismic standards.

The report argues the new bridge would be a boon to improving traffic conditions as it includes $500 million in new transit infrastructure, including 50 kilometres of new transit/High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, integrated transit stops, space for future rapid transit and dedicated transit on-ramps. In addition, the bridge will provide pedestrian and cyclist connectivity between Richmond and Delta.

The 10-lane, $3.5-billion bridge project was endorsed by former Premier Christy Clark. But Premier John Horgan, who took power in July, has been silent on its future.

"The imperative for the new bridge is the risk to public," reads the report. "The chances of a moderate to major earthquake impacting the region in the next 50 years is high, resulting in the failure of the tunnel and probable loss of the Pattullo Bridge. This risk cannot be ignored."

However, some at the City of Richmond disagree with bridge plans and intend to halt all pre-construction work. A July report presented to Richmond officials counters the Delta report, offering two alternatives that would upgrade the existing tunnel and add a second.

Director of Transportation Victor Wei, who authored the report, writes that the first option requires adding a four-lane tunnel next to the existing one. Two of its lanes would be for HOV and transit with the remaining for normal traffic. There is also an option to eventually convert the transit and HOV lanes to light rail.

The other option Wei sees is adding a two-lane tunnel exclusively for buses and HOV also with the option to be converted to accept light rail.  Wei argues twinning the tunnel should not cost more than the bridge.

Richmond City Council voted eight to one to ask Horgan to consider whether the bridge project should be scrapped in favour of tunnel upgrades.

Planning for a replacement commenced in 2012. However, studies for a potential expanded tunnel or replacement date back to the early 1990s.

The planning phase spanned from 2012 through 2016 and included three phases of consultation, technical analysis and community and stakeholder engagement.

Construction is expected to begin this summer, with the new bridge completed by 2022.

The replacement plan for the tunnel was approved by the B.C. Liberal government in 2013.

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