RICHMOND, B.C. - Construction on the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project has officially started.
"After four years of consultation with First Nations, municipal and regional governments, and a tremendous amount of technical work, construction is underway on the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, which includes replacing the seismically vulnerable tunnel with a safe, modern bridge," said Transportation Minister Todd Stone in a statement.
"These site preparation contracts represent the first work on the Massey replacement, which will generate approximately 9,000 direct jobs over the life of the project."
Two contracts have been awarded for site preparation work to improve drainage and ground conditions in advance of major project construction. Hall Constructors of Surrey, B.C. has been awarded an $11.5-million contract for site preparation work south of the tunnel.
"We're excited to be a small part of history as our crew begins the work on the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project," said Chad Tenney, vice-president of Hall Constructors.
"The good jobs created by this project will benefit our employees and their families and the many others who will work on the project over the next five years."
A contract valued at $5.8 million has been awarded to B&B Heavy Civil Construction, also of Surrey, for site preparation along Highway 99 between Bridgeport Road and Steveston Highway.
The total cost of the George Massey Tunnel Improvement Project is estimated at $3.5 billion.
The site preparation work includes ditch improvements and the placement of pre-load material on soft soils immediately adjacent to the existing highway.
Pre-load work is standard practice on most major highway construction projects. Soil is piled to compress the existing ground in advance of the main work, which will minimize settlement following construction, a release reads.
The process to award the major construction work contract is still underway and the province expects to have its preferred proponent chosen by summer 2017.
All major approvals are in place for the project to proceed, including the project's Environmental Assessment Certificate, awarded on Feb. 9, and approval from the Agricultural Land Commission received on Feb. 24.
"We appreciate the ministry's responsiveness to input and concerns around agricultural issues relating to the project," said Richmond Farmers' Institute president Todd May.
"The inclusion of the Richmond Farmers' Institute during the consultation process has further solidified the relationship between government and farming families in enhancing agricultural viability now and into the future."
The new bridge and associated highway improvements, including dedicated transit lanes, will cut some commute times in half and also improve travel-time reliability for the 10,000 transit passengers and more than 80,000 vehicles that use the tunnel each day, the release continues. The project includes over $500 million in transit infrastructure.
The new bridge will include a multi-use pathway with connections to Steveston Highway and to River Road, making walking and cycling viable transportation options for the first time ever.
According to the province, the existing 60-year-old tunnel does not meet current seismic standards, nor can it be brought up to current standards without risk of damage, which could render the crossing unusable.
The new bridge will be built to modern seismic standards, providing a lifeline crossing over the Fraser River in the event of a major earthquake.
Other safety benefits of the project include additional lanes that make merging safer for all vehicles while reducing collisions by an estimated 35 per cent, and wider lanes and shoulders.
After site preparation, major construction will begin later this year with the new bridge opening in 2022. Tunnel decommissioning will follow.