Feds, Port could kick in for tunnel replacement
The provincial government is looking at sharing the costs to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel, and the Federal government and Port Metro Vancouver could be possible partners.
That’s according to project manager Geoff Freer, who spoke before more than 150 local residents at the Ministry of Transportation’s public information session on Saturday in Tsawwassen.
“This is the direct route from the border to Vancouver… and there’s no question the river is vitally important, not just to Port Metro Vancouver, but to everyone,” said project manager Geoff Freer. “We have no idea what [a possible cost-sharing structure] would look like at this point, but certainly there is precedent.”
The provincial government unveiled five possible options for the future of the 54-year-old George Massey Tunnel earlier this month, ranging from a new bridge or tunnel, to not adding any capacity at all. However, Freer said it is still too soon to provide the public with rough estimates of what the various options would cost taxpayers.
“Tunnels, generally, we tend to think of as being more expensive both in capital costs and maintenance costs,” he said.
As part of Phase 2 of the tunnel replacement project, the Ministry of Transportation is meeting with the public, as well as industry stakeholders, to determine which option it will go with. Freer said the Ministry is meeting with Port Metro Vancouver to determine what their needs would be for a new crossing. Should the tunnel be removed, it could allow for deeper dredging of the Fraser River, allowing larger ships to access port facilities upriver. The scope of the project will also include looking at expediting cross-border truck and passenger vehicle traffic.
“We can’t just look at the tunnel,” said Freer. “We’re looking from the border right to Bridgeport.”
Many of those in attendance at Saturday’s meeting spoke of the need for transit options on the new route, including pedestrian and cycling lanes, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and dedicated lanes for rapid buses.
While Freer said rapid buses would be the next stage in rapid transit development along the route, and all four plans to add capacity include cycling and pedestrian options.
“We need improved transit, we need improved cycling access,” said Freer. “I don’t think anyone could argue that.”
However, he noted that TransLink does not have plans to extend Skytrain to Delta in the near future. And funding for any public transit operations on a new crossing would be paid for by TransLink, and won’t be included as part of the project’s budget.
That’s not good enough, says urban planner and former TransLink board member Gordon Price. A crossing that includes rapid transit must also include the ongoing operating costs if it is to be taken seriously, in Price’s opinion.
“But that’s not part of their reality,” he said. “The Ministry of Transportation is still stuck in the mid-20th Century belief that you need to increase capacity on a bottle neck to keep the machine going, but there are no real models of success for that.”
A system design solely for the automobile, with public transit an afterthought, doesn’t provide commuters with viable options and will ultimately fail, he added. However, Price said the provincial government is still mired in the philosophy that public transportation is a public service.
“You have to provide options. Otherwise, why spend all this money just to move the congestion down the road four kilometres,” he said. “Public transportation is not a social service, it’s an investment [in the economy].”
Freer wouldn’t give any indications on a possible timeline for the tunnel replacement project.
“It’s probably not going to happen as fast as some people would like,” said Freer. He added the project will also be looking at short-term alternatives to ease congestion, but along-term vision will first need to be defined before moving forward.
“We don’t want to spend the money and do the work, and then have to tear it all down in a couple years,” he said.
The deadline to provide input on the tunnel replacement project is April 2.