The Province of British Columbia has started forward movement on constructing a new $3.5 billion project that includes replacing the aging George Massey Tunnel under the Fraser River with a brand-new, 10-lane bridge.

The George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project kicked off in April with an $11.5-million contract to Hall Constructors of Surrey, British Columbia, for site preparation work south of the current tunnel south of Vancouver, B.C.

“We’re excited to be a small part of history as our crew begins the work on the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project,” says Chad Tenney, vice-president of Hall Constructors, in a statement. “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 was awarded to B&B Heavy Civil Construction 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.

This site preparation work includes ditch improvements and the placement of pre-load material on soft soils immediately adjacent to the existing highway. Soil is piled to compress the existing ground in advance of the main work, which will minimize settlement following construction.

The process to award the major construction works contract is still underway, and the province expects to have its preferred proponent chosen by summer 2017. While not finalized, the design will likely come as a cable-stay bridge. The project will include improvements between Bridgeport Road in Richmond and Highway 91 in Delta, dedicated transit/HOV lanes and a multiuse pathway for cyclists and pedestrians across the new bridge.

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.

The existing 60-year-old tunnel does not meet current seismic standards and cannot be upgraded safely. By replacing the four-lane tunnel near Richmond, B.C., with a bridge, the province expects to improve the flow of traffic along Highway 99 with more lanes and the ability to allow for multi-modal transportation.

With more than 80,000 vehicles using the tunnel each day, the province plans to cut the longest commute waits in half, while improving travel-time reliability for the 10,000 daily transit passengers.

The new bridge, funded in part by user tolls, is expected to open in 2022 with tunnel decommissioning to follow.

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb