Aerial view rendering of the eight-lane immersed tube tunnel favoured by Metro Vancouver’s board of directors to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel. (Province of British Columbia image)

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A bridge to replace the fragile, congested George Massey Tunnel under the Fraser River can be restarted soon after the Oct. 24 B.C. election, without lengthy environmental studies and a likely court challenge to the proposed twin tunnel plan, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson says.

Wilkinson and Richmond-Queensborough candidate Jas Johal announced at a campaign event Oct. 5 that the Massey bridge project would be part of an $8 billion infrastructure package to help B.C.’s economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of the bridge has risen since the NDP cancelled the project in 2017 and embarked on a study of an eight-lane tunnel option instead.

The bridge project was halted with six kilometres of sand preload in place for the approaches and $95 million spent on assessment, design and consultation, Wilkinson said. He gave no estimate of how much the cost has risen and would only say it would be open to traffic “as soon as possible.”

“The worst possible thing you can do is to drive a great big tunnel under the river,” Wilkinson said.

NDP leader John Horgan’s sudden election call is the latest delay for the project, halting work on a business case for a new crossing that still includes an eight to 10-lane bridge as well as the twin tunnel option favoured by Metro Vancouver municipalities.

Speaking on behalf of the NDP, Delta North candidate Ravi Kahlon acknowledged that three years after cancelling the original bridge project, his government has not yet approved a design or decided between a bridge and a tunnel. That decision will come by the end of the year, he said.

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Wilkinson said the Massey bridge would be built without tolls, mindful of the removal of tolls from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges that proved popular in Maple Ridge and Surrey where both parties are campaigning feverishly for the Oct. 24 election.

The B.C. Liberal government had a contract for $2.4 billion to build the Massey bridge, replacing a tunnel put in the river more than 60 years ago and now considered at risk in an earthquake. The B.C. Liberals say a new bridge will be financed out of an $8 billion “Rebuild B.C.” fund, which is in addition to existing infrastructure plans including the Langley and Vancouver rapid transit extensions now in progress.

The tunnel option could mean a delay of up to 10 years in getting a new crossing ready for use, since the Tsawwassen First Nation has opposed the plan and would likely challenge it in court due to the impact of dredging the river on Fraser River salmon, Wilkinson said. At a minimum, the tunnel option triggers a federal environmental assessment of the fish habitat impact, and if approved, the dredging and relocation of thousands of tonnes of salt-contaminated river bottom soil to create a trench for the twin tunnels.

Just before the announcement, the NDP campaign issued a statement claiming the switch would “risk major delays, risk losing federal funding and set the project back years.” Kahlon said he doesn’t know how much time a federal fisheries review of tunnel dredging and construction would take, but the previously approved bridge would “turn Richmond into a parking lot.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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