The British Columbia government has ditched plans for a 10-lane bridge to ease traffic congestion south of Vancouver in favour of a smaller crossing and improvements to the existing George Massey Tunnel, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said Monday.
Tens of thousands of motorists who make the daily snail’s pace commute through the tunnel route that links Delta and Richmond and funnels traffic to and from Vancouver will need to be more patient, she said.
Consultations on proposals for a six- or eight-lane bridge or an expanded eight-lane tunnel underneath the Fraser River will start in 2019, Trevena told a news conference, adding she could not speculate when the project could be completed or at what cost.
“We’re going to be working more aggressively on the approaches to the tunnel and working within the tunnel,” Trevena said. “After that we’re having the consultations. We’re going to be then getting the business plan together by the fall of 2020, which will be saying this is how we’re going to be going forward and from that point we’ll be moving expeditiously.”
The former Liberal government had already begun work on a $3.5-billion, 10-lane bridge to replace the existing four-lane, 59-year-old tunnel, but the New Democrats put the plan on hold after the 2017 election.
“A 10-lane bridge is really the wrong project,” Travena said. “It’s been very clear from communities up to this point that they did not want a 10-lane bridge.”
Richmond city council had complained about the massive bridge project taking over agricultural and park lands, but the review says any replacement will still encroach on those areas.
An independent technical review of the George Massey crossing, commissioned by the NDP and released Monday, recommended a re-examination of the project’s needs.
The review by Stan Cowdell of consulting engineers Westmar Advisors said the 10-lane proposal exceeded the area’s requirements.
It recommended examining the addition of new tunnel capacity, including reusing the existing tunnel.
It also said the government should review the entire project to ensure it reduces future traffic congestion and provides enhanced public transit infrastructure.
Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said the NDP does not have a plan to fix the largest bottleneck in British Columbia.
“Today’s announcement shows the NDP is planning Band-Aid solutions, like minor upgrades to the tunnel or a small bridge,” he said in a statement. “Neither of these options will get commuters home to their families sooner or more safely. We need a solution that plans for the next century.”
Work will start immediately on ways to improve traffic congestion near the Steveston interchange, followed shortly by safety improvements to the tunnel approaches and inside the tunnel, including better lighting and drainage, Travena said.
“People are frustrated at the unacceptable congestion and bottlenecks at the George Massey Tunnel,” Trevena said. “We understand that.”