Work on the business case for a new crossing to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel is officially on hold while British Columbians go to the polls.
On Monday, Premier John Horgan officially terminated his minority government agreement with the B.C. Green Party and called an election for Oct. 24, sending the public service into “caretaker mode” until the next government is sworn in.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure confirmed Tuesday morning that work on the new crossing has stopped until after the election is over.
“Projects and activities will not be advanced, unless they have already been authorized by cabinet. Final decisions around Highway 99 expansion and the George Massey crossing have yet to be made, and so that work will pause during the interregnum,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.
Only a few days before the snap election was called, the ministry announced it was in the process of “identifying property necessary for future infrastructure improvements on Highway 99,” an initial step while work on the business case for the new crossing to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel is completed.
The ministry made the announcement on Friday, Sept. 18, adding a preferred replacement option had been determined.
“We continue to make progress toward selecting the right solution for a new crossing of the Fraser River on Highway 99 that aligns with regional plans,” Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon said Friday on behalf of Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena. “I know people want traffic congestion relief at the George Massey Tunnel without having to pay unfair tolls. Today’s announcement shows our government is taking action on much-needed improvements.”
Trevena announced on Sunday, Sept. 20 that she will not be seeking re-election, while Kahlon announced his intention to run again on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
The business case for the new crossing was expected to be completed some time this fall, though the election has likely changed that timeline.
The province is considering two options to replace the 61-year-old tunnel — and eight-lane immersed tube tunnel and an eight-lane bridge.
According to a technical analysis completed in December 2019, both options would have similar grades, include dedicated bus-only lanes and separated multi-use pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. Both options also come 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 November 2019, would be about one kilometre longer and three metres deeper than the existing tunnel (to accommodate taller vehicles including double-decker buses), and located 42 metres upstream of the current structure to minimize property impacts, as well as reduce scouring at the existing GVRD water tunnel and avoid the location of a potential future BC Hydro transmission line, both of which are downstream.
The tunnel option would be a shorter crossing than the bridge and the project would also provide improved connectivity with Deas Island Regional Park.
The project would have in-river impacts during construction, however the analysis notes there is the potential for in-river habitat enhancements as well.
It’s estimated the environmental review for the tunnel option would take three years and construction would take five years, plus an extra year to close the portals of the existing tunnel and recommission it for “utility only” use. However, the report also notes that work in the river is likely to be limited to a six- or seven-month window each year, meaning if construction falls behind then critical path items could be delayed by six months or potentially even a year.
The bridge option would be located 25 metres upstream of the current tunnel, stand 650 metres above the Fraser River and 380 metres above Deas Slough. With its suspended main section, the bridge would not require any piers in the Fraser River but would require them in Deas Slough.
The bridge would have more land-side property impacts than the tunnel option, including in Deas Island Regional Park, including long-term noise, light, visual and shading effects.
The environmental review for the bridge option is estimated to be shorter than the tunnel option, only one to two years, with the same five-year time frame for construction and additional year to close the portals of the existing tunnel and recommission it for “utility only” use.
In the meantime, work continues on a $40-million suite of safety improvements to the Massey Tunnel.
Projects include resurfacing and line painting on Highway 99 between Steveston Highway and the Highway 17 Interchange (completed in November 2019); improving drainage to reduce pooling water and ice on the road at tunnel entrances; converting tunnel and roadway lighting to the LED standard to increase visibility and better illuminate the tunnel, as well as save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and upgrading the fire alarm, fire door, ventilation and electrical systems to ensure reliability and ongoing safety within the tunnel. Additional washing of the interior tunnel is also ongoing.
These additional safety improvements are scheduled to be complete by spring 2021.
— with files from Ashley Wadhwani and Tom Fletcher