Metro Vancouver mayors are cautious, although optimistic, about the NDP government’s review of the planned George Massey Bridge.
The province announced on Wednesday that it will pause construction on the 10-lane bridge planned for Highway 99 until the independent review is complete. The bridge, which is budgeted to cost $3.5 billion, has already racked up $70 million in construction costs since work began in April 2017.
Surrey’s acting mayor Tom Gill said Thursday that while he is happy the government is reviewing the project, he remains concerned as to how the NDP plan to fund the Massey replacement, as well as Surrey’s Pattullo Bridge, now that tolls have been dropped.
“How does that decision impact future capital projects?” Gill said. “We need to have a plan in place so that everyone understands what is happening.”
Gill, along with Delta Mayor Lois Jackson and Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, say they haven’t gotten word of any such plan.
The transportation ministry confirmed that there will be no tolls on any Lower Mainland bridges but did not provide any clear answers as to how either bridge replacement will be paid for.
“Government will not presume what the solution to the George Massey crossing will be, how much it would cost, or what funding options might be available,” the ministry said in an email, noting that the Pattullo Bridge remains a priority in the region.
“We’ve been leaving in the Pattullo Bridge nightmare,” Gill said. “We’re going to be living in the Massey Bridge nightmare.”
The City of Surrey has long maintained that tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges were unfair for South of the Fraser residents, but Gill said he is worried that nixing them altogether may leave the region’s transportation projects in a bind.
“We were never able to come up with a solution to fund the Pattullo Bridge, and now here we are dropping tolls,” he said. “If [the Massey] is now free, does that mean it doesn’t materialize?”
Gill hopes that the delay in Massey Bridge construction doesn’t have a negative impact on Asia-Pacific trade.
“It’s important that we realize that there are tremendous opportunities in future Surrey port activity,” said Gill. “Super carriers can’t get through given the depth of the existing tunnel.”
Jackson and Brodie are both happy that the province is taking another look at the Massey replacement, albeit from opposite sides of the issue.
Jackson has been the lone voice among Metro Vancouver mayors in favour of the replacement bridge.
“We’ve pressed for the need to replace the tunnel since the mid ‘80s,” said Jackson. “We thought we were almost there, but obviously governments change and we’re having to move ahead as we can.”
She noted that Delta had asked Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson to delve into the plans for the Massey.
For his part, Brodie has long opposed a Massey Bridge, citing ill-effects it would have not only on Richmond but for the whole region.
“There have been 20-plus years of studies on this corridor,” said Brodie. “They always talked about twinning the tunnel until in 2012 the premier of the day magically announced that it would be a bridge.”
Then-premier Christy Clark announced the 10-lane bridge at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September 2012.