Province seeks input on Massey Tunnel
The provincial government hopes to have options for what a new Fraser River crossing to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel might look like by the new year, but for now they are seeking the public's input as to how the project will take shape.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure held the first of its five public consultations Saturday (Dec. 1) in Delta, with meetings scheduled in South Surrey and Richmond for next week.
The 629-metre-long tunnel was completed in 1959, and currently carries more than 80,000 vehicles each day, for 30 million trips annually.
From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the tunnel operates at, or over, its designed capacity, with the annual cost of congestion at $66 million in 2008, according to Ministry figures, and could be as high as $100 million by 2041.
Currently, the tunnel is not only a choke point for automobile traffic, but ship traffic as well.
The tunnel was designed to sit on top of the river floor, and allows a draft of just 11.5 metres in depth for ships to pass over top. That's too shallow to allow large container ships to travel up the South Arm of the Fraser River to port facilities in Surrey and Annacis Island.
"You can't have a fully laden vessel… so we're not making the best use of those resources," said Port Metro Vancouver vice president Duncan Wilson. "It undermines the potential for the port facilities. It's a barrier to trade."
If the tunnel were to be decommissioned and replaced with a bridge, that would open the possibility of dredging the Fraser River to allow for larger ships, Wilson said. Larger ships mean more trade, and more jobs.
"We see a tremendous opportunity in terms of growth of bulk shipping… for canola, potash, grain," he said.
According to Wilson, the Fraser River employs 53,000 and contributes $9.6 billion in supply chain related economic activity, which includes shipping, trucking, rail, and logistics.
"The Fraser River is already more significant to the Canadian economy than the St. Lawrence Seaway," he said.
Expanded shipping capacity along the South Arm may also allow Port Metro Vancouver to develop additional port facilities along the Fraser.
"Right now, the Fraser River is a couple of auto terminals and the Fraser Surrey Docks," Wilson said. "There's so much potential there."
Cyclists and pedestrians are not permitted to use the tunnel, and must take a free shuttle across, which runs hourly.
Delta Bikes manager Steve Reid said the tunnel creates a barrier for cyclists.
"We have great cycling options here in Delta, and in Richmond, but there's a complete disconnect," he said.
Reid said he favors any options to replace the tunnel that would allow cyclists the ability to cross the Fraser River on their own via a bike lane, instead of being forced to wait for an hour for the next shuttle to arrive.
"There would be a massive commuter benefit to that," he said. "I know so many people here who would gladly bike to work in Richmond every day if they didn't have to deal with that tunnel."
Premier Christy Clark announced in September the provincial government's intention to replace the aging tunnel.
According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the tunnel has 10 to 15 years left of serviceable life, after which the tunnel's electrical and ventilation systems will need to be completely replaced.
The tunnel underwent "modest" seismic retrofits in 2006, however the stabilization of the ground around the tunnel will need to be conducted in the future to bring it up to modern standards.
Consultation for the project is taking place in two phases: the first to collect input from the public and develop options for the tunnel replacement; while the second phase will identify and discuss exactly what the project will look like.
A provincial spokesperson said crossing design elements will look at including the Highway 99 corridor, providing access to designated areas of growth, and providing for the needs of all users, including commuters, transit, and industry.
Since 1991, the provincial government has completed three reviews of the George Massey Tunnel, all three of which recommended adding capacity to the tunnel.