Sketch of 10-lane bridge to replace George Massey Tunnel, which a local MLA says would be half built by now if the original toll bridge plan hadn’t been cancelled. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation)

B.C. VIEWS: Massey crossing a bridge too far for NDP

Premier John Horgan focused on high-speed train to Seattle

Embracing a recommendation by Metro Vancouver mayors for a new eight-lane tunnel to replace the traffic-choked four-lane George Massey tunnel is a choice the B.C. NDP government may regret.

One of the first major decisions of Premier John Horgan and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena on taking office in 2017 was to scrap plans for a 10-lane bridge. A bridge similar to the new Port Mann crossing would have been well underway by now. Instead, the NDP government chose to make a hugely expensive point about avoiding tolls and consulting with the quarrelsome councils of the Lower Mainland.

Delta South B.C. Liberal MLA Ian Paton has been a fierce critic of delays in fixing what everyone agrees is the worst traffic bottleneck in the province. Like many others, he was surprised that floating new tunnel sections into the Lower Fraser, sinking them and linking them, is the new plan.

Paton estimates that the bridge would be half done by now, and starting from scratch with engineering and environmental work for a tunnel means relief for commuters is now 10 years away. An eight-lane bridge would benefit from engineering work already done.

RELATED: Delta council warns of decade of tunnel delays, rejection

RELATED: Metro task force recommends eight-lane Massey tunnel

The tunnel requires removal of 1.5 million cubic metres of salt-contaminated soil to trench the river bottom, which would somehow have to be stabilized for earthquake safety along with the lengthy approaches from both sides. This in-river work invokes federal fisheries law, forcing construction into a narrow summer window. That’s if it gets environmental approval, which could take three years or more.

Then there’s the money. Horgan won his bare minority government on a promise to remove tolls from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, moving their massive debt onto the province’s capital budget. A “business case” for the new project may take a year, so the usual string of pre-election announcements in 2021 may not be well received.

And obviously the NDP’s union-only public construction model weighs heavily on projects like this. After a huge overrun on a short piece of Trans-Canada Highway widening near Revelstoke, the ministry insists it is on budget for its four-lane replacement of the four-lane Pattullo Bridge. We’ll see.

As the municipal task force was gathering to make their surprise choice to reject a down-scaled bridge that looks like the logical option, Horgan was asked if his government was wasting time.

“I wouldn’t say for a second that it’s been a waste of time,” Horgan said, adding that he met with the mayor of Delta and was looking forward to financing whatever the mayors want. Trevena repeated the comments a few hours later, after the tunnel recommendation emerged. First it has to be costed, then go to cabinet, then the Treasury Board to find the money as the province teeters on the edge of returning to deficits.

The next day Horgan was off to Seattle to once again join Gov. Jay Inslee in pitching a bullet train from Portland to Vancouver, at unimaginable cost. Horgan put $600,000 toward a “business case” for that, which found that eventually it “may be viable” if routes and state-federal governance can be figured out.

Drivers stuck in the Massey tunnel for the next decade will have time to admire a $40 million spruce-up of our 60-year-old earthquake trap. Scheduled for completion by the end of 2020, it includes new paint, lighting, drainage to keep ice from forming, and a good washing of the dank interior walls.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Mounties nab suspected break-in bandit after Pitt Meadows incident

A multi-jurisdictional investigation leads to the arrest of a Port Coquitlam man

Halloween Howl to kick off festivities in Maple Ridge

Norman Foote concert with Yennadon elementary choir

Angel highlights the benefits of volunteerism at Ridge Meadows Hospital

Yvonne and John McDonald are nine-year volunteers at the hospital

Celebrate the salmon’s return in Maple Ridge

Return of the Salmon put on by KEEPS

UNTRENDING: Preparing kids for a digital life

Entrepreneur, speaker, and columnist Vicki McLeod offers some insight into children and cyberspace

80% of TransLink bus routes are slower today than five years ago: report

TransLink says delays are costing $75 million a year

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

LETTER: Middle class better off with Trudeau’s child benefit boost

It’s a transfer, not a tax cut, but it helps families get ahead

VIDEO: Depth and scoring lacking for Vancouver Giants this season: Coach

G-Men defeated on home ice Sunday by Victoria – next up Everett on Friday

Report suggests new BC Ferries terminal near YVR

Metro Vancouver currently has two ferry terminals at northern and southern reaches

B.C. scouting group’s tent destroyed by black bear on Thanksgiving

The Richmond-based Sea Dragon Sea Scouts were camping at Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Greta Thunberg meets with First Nations chief in Fort McMurray

Thunberg has turned her protest against climate change into a global movement

Most Read