A new bridge will replace the aging George Massey Tunnel but the provincial government isn’t yet saying if the span will be tolled.
Premier Christy Clark promised construction will begin in 2017 in her speech Friday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
Clark said it’s too early to say how improved transit along Highway 99 might fit into the project or whether tolls will be required to pay for it.
If the new bridge is tolled it would join the new Port Mann, the Golden Ears, and possibly the Pattullo – where tolls are also an option to pay for replacement – as Metro Vancouver bridges that motorists must pay to cross.
The premier said the province is following the advice of the public provided in consultations that a new bridge is best, rather than another tunnel.
The province is also rejecting one controversial alignment that would have crossed the river further upstream and was strongly opposed over concern it would intensify pressure to develop farmland in east Richmond.
“People said the tunnel must be replaced and it must be replaced on the same route,” Clark told UBCM, adding the project will relieve congestion on what is now “the worst bottleneck in the Lower Mainland.”
A newly released report on public feedback found “medium” support for building a new bridge and also keeping the old tunnel.
But decommissioning the 55-year-old tunnel also offers the major advantage of allowing larger ships to sail up the Fraser River, opening up expanded port use of sites in North Delta and Surrey.
Asked if Port Metro Vancouver should contribute to the cost, Clark called that “a good idea.”
The new Port Mann Bridge itself cost $830 million, not counting about $2 billion more to expanding the highway and interchanges.
It’s not yet clear if the province intends similar upgrades along Highway 99 or how many lanes are planned for the new bridge.
But a video released by the transportation ministry depicts a large 10-lane bridge with special HOV and truck lanes.
Some transit advocates have previously said they fear the new bridge will come at the cost of more transit and SFU City Program director Gordon Price predicted Friday it will add more pressure to develop farmland.
Engineering and technical work is underway to develop a project scope and business case for the new bridge and associated Highway 99 corridor upgrades, to be made public next spring.
Meanwhile, the transportation ministry plans to immediately lengthen the Steveston off-ramp at the north end of the tunnel to improve safety and ease traffic congestion there.
The announcement was applauded by Delta mayor Lois Jackson and the B.C. Trucking Association.
Clark first pledged to begin studying options to replace the tunnel at last year’s UBCM convention. The province says the tunnel has about 10 years of useful life left.