The province announced Wednesday its plan for dealing with what many consider to be one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the province: the George Massey Tunnel.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the provincial government will replace the aging four-lane tunnel with a new, eight-lane immersed-tube tunnel on Highway 99.
The new tunnel, which will be located immediately upstream of the existing tunnel, is expected to be operational by 2030 and cost $4.15 billion. Two of the eight lanes are to be dedicated for rapid bus transit, and there will be separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. The budget includes the cost of removing the current tunnel.
Prior to the 2020 provincial election, the province was mulling over a tunnel or bridge replacement for the 62-year-old tunnel.
According to a technical analysis completed in December 2019, both options would have similar grades, including dedicated bus-only lanes and separated multi-use pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. Both options also came with comparable price tags – $4-5 billion for the tunnel and $3.5-4.5 billion for the bridge.
The immersed tube tunnel option, which was endorsed by Metro Vancouver’s board of directors in 2019, would be able one kilometre longer and three metres deeper than the existing tunnel (to accommodate double-decker buses).
According to the ministry, the tunnel was selected over the bridge because it was endorsed by the Metro Vancouver board; limits new visual, noise, shading and lighting impacts; has fewest impacts to agricultural land; facilitates movement of trucks and cyclists with much lower elevation change; and provides protection from inclement weather.
The first step in the project is an environmental assessment process, which will take about three and a half years, and includes engagement with Indigenous peoples.
Improvements to transit and cycling infrastructure along Highway 99 are expected to begin this fall, as will work on the new Steveston Interchange which is expected to be complete in 2025.
“A new crossing to replace the George Massey Tunnel will improve traffic flow and make travel by transit, walking and cycling more convenient and attractive, without costing commuters hundreds of dollars a year in unfair tolls,” Fleming said. “We’ve worked hard to make sure this is the right project for the region, and along with the other Highway 99 improvements getting underway, we’re getting people moving around the region.”
Delta Mayor George Harvie said the tunnel will deliver significant benefits to residents of the entire region by addressing congestion along the Highway 99 corridor.
“Advocating for an infrastructure project of this magnitude and scope requires collaboration and today’s announcement reflects the collective effort and support of mayors and First Nations Chiefs in the region. We appreciate the opportunity to work with the provincial government in advancing this critical infrastructure project to help improve the movement of goods, people and overall livability in the region,” Harvie said.
Shortly after the tunnel announcement, the Surrey Board of Trade published a release announcing its disappointment in the decision to not build a 10-lane bridge.
“Surrey is still growing by 1,200-1,400 people a month, and with another 1.3 million people expected to arrive by 2030 in the Metro Vancouver region, with many of them expected to live, learn, work and play in Surrey and the South Fraser economic region, the 8-lane tunnel, which is really only an additional 2 lanes from what currently is in place, does not meet Surrey’s needs to move people and move goods. Surrey is compromised again in terms of transportation infrastructure,” SBOT CEO Anita Huberman said in the release.
Replacement of the tunnel has been a long-delayed project and somewhat of a political football. In 2015, the then BC Liberal government announced that a 10-lane toll bridge, at a cost of $3.5 billion, would replace the tunnel. An official groundbreaking event for the project was held in 2017.
However, after NDP’s John Horgan took office later that year, his government scrapped plans for a 10-lane toll bridge and instead commissioned the technical analysis study.
While NDP MLA’s were celebrating Wednesday’s annoucement, BC Liberals took to social media to voice frustration.
“3.5 years of environmental assessments and 5 more years for construction means commuters are left idling in traffic for another decade. The NDP crossing costs $1.55 billion more and does not accommodate future rail rapid transit. Once again the NDP will pay more for less,” tweeted Delta South MLA Ian Paton.
So far, the federal government has not offered any funding for the project, but Fleming said he “certainly hopes” the federal government will assist.