Delta Mayor Lois Jackson faces an uphill battle convincing other regional politicians of the need to replace the George Massey Tunnel.
Jackson last year persuaded the province to start studying options for a new crossing of the Fraser River to relieve congestion on Highway 99 through Delta.
But several other members of Metro Vancouver’s transportation committee questioned the justification for the project July 23.
“You can’t build your way out of congestion,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who instead supports more investment in transit buses along Highway 99.
“The real answer is to take vehicles off that corridor.”
Brodie is concerned traffic jams will merely move into Richmond if a new six-lane bridge is built to replace the tunnel.
He also favours longer hours of operation at Port Metro Vancouver terminals so that trucks can haul cargo at night when there’s little traffic on the roads.
Jackson supports that aim but insists the 55-year-old tunnel desperately needs to be replaced.
“I am disappointed to hear those statements,” she said, adding Delta has watched while the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges were built, the Canada Line was completed and Evergreen Line work started.
“I don’t know where the fairness is there,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have to go out and sell our message again.”
Jackson said she’s willing to accept tolls on a Massey tunnel replacement but said they should be “far less” than the $3 for the Port Mann, suggesting $1 or $1.50 would be appropriate.
She said tolls on a new Deas crossing would have to also apply on the Alex Fraser and Pattullo Bridges to avoid overwhelming congestion at those bridges if they were left as the only remaining free crossings of the Fraser River within Metro.
“We’ve seen what’s happened on the Alex Fraser because of the two other toll bridges,” Jackson said. “We’re getting the overflow from the other areas where people don’t want to pay tolls.”
Nor would she stop there.
“I think they should all be tolled, whether it’s the Lions Gate or Second Narrows or whatever,” she added.
Richard Walton, chair of the regional mayors’ council, said he prefers distance-based road pricing, adding tolling specific bridges isn’t a fair way to raise money.
He said the provincial government’s sudden decision to make the Massey Tunnel replacement a priority has sparked concern in Vancouver and Surrey that rapid transit extensions could end up taking a back seat to a new billion-dollar bridge.
“There’s a limited amount of money in the Lower Mainland to pay for major infrastructure projects,” Walton said.
He was asked if a promised referendum on transit funding might also include the replacement of the tunnel and Pattullo Bridge so motorists who don’t use transit might have more reason to vote for a package triggering higher taxes or tolls.
“Going in that direction may make sense,” Walton said.
He said residents in various suburbs won’t vote ‘Yes’ in a referendum unless they see a local benefit.
“If you’re going to go the referendum route, you want a basket of goods, where there’s clearly something in it for the people who are going to continue to drive in cars.”
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said the Massey Tunnel may need seismic upgrades for now while bolstered transit may help reduce the number of cars using Highway 99 through Delta and Richmond.
Watts, who chairs the Metro transportation committee, said Metro directors also want the province to pay to help replace the Pattullo Bridge, because it was transferred from to TransLink in the late 1990s on the basis it would last at least 30 years more.
TransLink has warned the Pattullo won’t likely withstand even a moderate earthquake and could be forced out of service by river erosion of its footings.
Watts said she wants to know who the province expects to spearhead the referendum and who will pay for the millions of dollars that would have to spent holding the vote and providing information to the public.
She suggested new funding sources proposed could partly offset existing ones, perhaps by reducing the gas tax in the region a few cents per litre.
Watts said her biggest problem is with the referendum itself and what will happen if all new transit funding tools are defeated.
Surrey taxpayers helped pay for TransLink expansions elsewhere, she said, and they are waiting on money to fund rapid transit expansion South of the Fraser.
“It is extremely unfair, especially if the referendum fails, because where does that leave us? I would hope that everybody involved wants the referendum to succeed so we can continue to work together to ensure we’re not going backwards.”
Watts said a rejection of more transit means more reliance on driving cars and more congestion that will cause the region’s economy to “grind to a screaming halt.”