A new political leadership for British Columbia means a new direction for a multi-billion-dollar project to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel between Delta and Richmond south of Vancouver, B.C.
B.C.’s NDP government cancelled construction of a 10-lane bridge to replace the tunnel, instead calling for an independent technical review of the best solution to replace a tunnel built in 1959 running beneath the Fraser River. The tunnel is deemed unsafe in a seismic event and creates traffic gridlock on Highway 99 due to its size of four lanes.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says the province will pay off pre-construction work already done on the project, compensate companies involved in the bid process and remove the project from the budget.
While the NDP and some local mayors applaud the decision to rethink a project that was announced in 2013 and expected to cost, at minimum, $3.5 billion, they still acknowledge the need for a replacement for the tunnel. Proponents of the bridge say hundreds of studies over multiple years already showed that a bridge was the best solution for the area and this latest move will only delay the solution further.
Trevena says the new process for establishing a decision will come with more consultation and research in order to get agreement from the community and Metro mayors. “We haven’t made any decision on what is the best way forward,” she said during the announcement, “we need to be open to any recommendations that are provided to government by the review.”
Opponents of the new plan point to the ongoing work, the 14,000 pages of studies and engineering reports on why the bridge is the best answer and the fact that work has already started on the bridge.
The main options under consideration are the original 10-lane proposal, a smaller bridge, repairs to the existing tunnel, a twinning of the tunnel or some combination of those projects.
The province had already shortlisted three companies to bid on the main contract and two of those had already submitted proposals, according to the Vancouver Sun. The province had set an Oct. 24 date to select the winning bid. Now, each of the two companies will get awarded $2 million for their effort in the cancelled bid process. Taxpayers have already spent $66 million on engineering, geotechnical work, public consultation, land procurement and site preparations.
Opponents of the bridge say that a bridge with 10 lanes only shifts traffic congestion from one region to other regions in the Metro transportation network. Richmond officials, for example, worry that choke points already occurring within their municipality would grow unbearable with a clear commute over the new 10-lane bridge.
Of course, some officials in B.C. have a focus on other areas of the Metro area that concern their constituents.
Trevena says that they need to do a better job examining all the options for the area and get more input from the people that live and work in the region. She expects the review would be ready in spring 2018.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.