Over 50 years old and already out of favor with the traveling public, the George Massey Tunnel south of Vancouver, B.C., has started garnering plenty of official attention. And it isn’t all good news if you’re a fan of the tunnel. But who is?
Built in 1959, the tunnel carries about 80,000 vehicles a day through its four lanes. The 2,000-ft-long corridor serves as a major connector for folks in Vancouver and Richmond to points south, including the heavily crossed Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash. And with that distinction carries the designation of one of the biggest traffic choking points in the region. Reversible lanes haven’t been able to quell the bottleneck that occurs with so many vehicles trying to squeeze through the tunnel.
The George Massey Tunnel, a single-tube split by a concrete wall, was a $29 million project that included immersed tube tunnel technology, is the first vehicle crossing of the Fraser River between the mouth of the river and points east. From there, travelling east, the Alex Fraser Bridge and Port Mann Bridge provide major crossings of the river southeast and east of Vancouver. The six-lane Golden Ears Bridge, connecting Langley and Maple Ridge, is the newest river crossing, opening in 2009.
In fall 2012, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced funding to start planning and designing a new crossing over—or under, again—the Fraser River to replace the tunnel, expected to be built in the next decade. The current tunnel has an expected lifespan of only between 10 and 15 more years.
Over 1,000 folks offered up concerns and suggestions during a comment period and now the ministry has offered five options to the public, open for comment until April 2, as part of the second phase of planning. Also included in this phase are technical studies and consultations, leading toward the all-important Phase 3: selecting the preferred option.
The options include:
Maintain the existing tunnel
Replace the existing tunnel with a new tunnel
Replace the existing tunnel with a new bridge
Keep the tunnel and add a bridge elsewhere nearby
Keep the tunnel and twin it with a new tunnel or bridge
One major issue, funding, hasn’t yet been addressed. But with the removal of a tunnel, potential construction of a multi-use bridge or tunnel and surrounding road improvements, that data point will certainly become part of the conversation. It needs to.
Any discussion about a river crossing must include a conversation surrounding ship traffic. The current tunnel limits the size of ships that can enter the Fraser River, especially ones headed to the Fraser Surrey Docks. How those potential economic factors play into either a new tunnel or bridge will be interesting to watch.
But, then again, there’ll be quite a few factors we can watch.
To get more details, visit masseytunnel.ca.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He has also written for TIME, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.