Supporting construction has begun to replace the 62-year-old George Massey Tunnel on Highway 99 in Richmond, B.C., south of Vancouver—marking a definitive turn in the multi-year, on-again, off-again plan to replace it with an eight-lane immersed tube tunnel as part of the $3.32-billion project, with an expected 2030 operatiing date.

With decade-long discussions to replace the tunnel, a four-lane passage that allows for one lane to change directions based on traffic needs, plans were already moving forward on a 10-lane bridge as the replacement. But a change in government leadership in British Columbia led to its cancellation months before construction was set to begin. New provincial leaders settled on the tunnel solution in 2020 to carry 80,000 daily vehicles. 

Smaller projects are kicking off the replacement effort.

They include new bus-on-shoulder lanes now being added to Highway 99 in both southbound and northbound directions that will tie in to the new tunnel. The $10.25-million project was awarded to M2K Construction Ltd., Coquitlam, B.C., with the lanes scheduled to open in 2023. “This is the first step to provide relief to traffic congestion on the corridor leading to a new eight-lane toll-free tunnel,” says Rob Fleming, British Columbia minister of transportation and infrastructure. 

Construction of the Bridgeport Road bus connection project, a $4.22-million contract awarded to Lafarge Canada Inc., Port Coquitlam, B.C., and improved cycling infrastructure have a February 2022 start. A transport ministry spokesperson called the February start the “first construction on the Highway 99 Tunnel Program” since the already-started bus-on-shoulder work, part of the larger corridor improvement included in the program's scope. 

The Steveston Interchange Project, with a budget of $70.1 million and a contract award set for spring, will start construction in the summer on a five-lane overpass to open in 2025. The project is designed so that once the new tunnel is in place, traffic will move into it more freely. Three firms shortlisted for that project include Aecon|NorLand General Partnership, Cascade Coast Infrastructure Group and Flatiron Constructors Canada Limited.

“With these improvements, and a new crossing to replace the old George Massey Tunnel, we'll improve safety, reliability and connectivity on the Highway 99 corridor on both sides of the Fraser River,” Fleming says. 

The group of projects combine to create the George Massey Crossing Project and were designed to move forward before opening the new tunnel. “These improvements are a great start at making travel safer and easier for people coming in and out of our city,” says Malcolm Brodie, Richmond mayor.

The tunnel will feature three lanes of both northbound and southbound traffic and a lane dedicated to rapid-bus traffic in each direction.

The existing tunnel was the first immersed tube tunnel in Canada when work started on it in 1957, with its depth below sea level by dipping 65 ft into the Fraser River. The new tunnel will feature two four-lane tubes placed in the river side-by-side at the same depth, but upstream of the existing tunnel. Specific tunnel information will not become available until a contract has been awarded and the design is finalized, but the current tunnel's submerged portion is 2,064 ft.

Following release of a request for qualifications on the new George Massey tunnel, the ministry expects a contractor shortlist by spring 2023, according to the spokesperson. A request for proposals would follow, with a preferred contractor selected and a contract awarded by summer 2024. Based on the current schedule, construction would begin in 2026, with tunnel opening expected in 2030.