A study in gridlock - The Orca

A study in gridlock

Maclean Kay

16 months after cancelling the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, the NDP announces a plan to have a plan.

Nearly a year-and-a-half after cancelling the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, today an NDP government-commissioned study said replacing the tunnel is urgently needed – and so the provincial government will launch another round of consultations.

“People are frustrated with the unacceptable congestion and bottlenecks at the George Massey Tunnel,” said Transportation Minister Claire Trevena.

“We understand that.”

One of the NDP government’s first major announcements was cancelling the project. But now more than a year after cancelling a plan to try to alleviate that congestion and bottlenecks, there’s not much immediate relief in sight.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Delta South MLA Ian Paton, “after the number of meetings I went to on Delta city council, two huge engineering reports all saying let’s move forward with the bridge.”

The previous BC Liberal government announced and started preliminary work on a 10-lane bridge to replace the tunnel. As the report concedes, there’s no question whatsoever something must be done. As a counterflow tunnel with four lanes, three are dedicated for prevailing rush hour traffic, and only one going the other way. For example, if you’re heading south out of Vancouver in the morning, an accident or any other problem in that one lane can create standstills.

“As a commuter, you never know if you’re going to be on time or an hour late,” says Paton.

Built in 1959, the tunnel is not only a traffic chokepoint, it’s seismically unsafe – in the event of an earthquake, the tunnel will flood.

Asked why consultations will just start now, Trevena stuck to the same message: “because the previous government didn’t do it.”

In response, BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal tweeted: “So after 5 years, and 14,000 pages of consultations, 145 technical and scientific reports, 35 meetings with Metro Van and TransLink, and 110 meetings with Richmond and Delta, [Minister Trevena] wants another study?”

Confusingly, the technical report indicated the planned 10-lane bridge would most definitely have reduced traffic, and would reduce it more than other, smaller options – but would disproportionately affect “liveability,” which is not defined.

In the meantime, Trevena announced $40 million in upgrades to existing infrastructure, including LED lights inside the tunnel, upgrades to the alarm, electrical, and ventilation systems – and “more frequent washing.”

On the table for consultations with the mayors and First Nations are three options: a six-lane bridge (which would merely mirror the current tunnel’s three lanes at rush hour), an eight-lane bridge, or a new “Immersed Tube Tunnel” to replace the existing tunnel.

According to Trevena, this latest round of consultations will take place through the spring, with a Fall 2020 target date…for a business plan.

Asked when to expect shovels in the ground, Trevena said “expeditiously” after the business plan – so, likely spring 2021.

Coincidentally, just in time for the next provincial election.


Maclean Kay is Editor in Chief of The Orca