Delta is appealing to government leaders and the public to not let politics delay — or cancel — the George Massey Tunnel replacement project.
To help combat what he describes as myths and misinformation about the need to replace the nearly-60-year-old tunnel, Delta’s Chief Administrative Officer George Harvie compiled a report that spells out the safety, economic and fiscal case for the 10-lane bridge.
“Our agenda here is to ensure that the public does have the facts,” Harvie said. “It is a public safety concern.”
Titled “The Public Safety and Economic Imperative for the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project,” the report boils down 14,000 pages of engineering studies, environmental reviews and cost analyses into a digestible 11-page read (not counting several hundred pages of appendices).
The report highlights the tunnel’s vulnerability in the event of an earthquake, as well the everyday risk to drivers and first responders.
The tunnel was designed to withstand a magnitude 6.5 earthquake, much less than current seismic standards. The 2001 Nisqually earthquake, centred in Puget Sound just northeast of Olympia, Wash., was a magnitude 6.8 tremor and caused between several billions of dollars worth of property damage.
“If we would have had the same thing that happened in the Seattle-Olympia area, that tunnel would have been gone,” Harvie said.
Although seismic upgrades were completed inside the tunnel in 2006, the work was intended to make the intake of water through cracks slower so the public could escape. Emergency pumps are expected to keep the water level low enough for people to exit the tunnel within an hour of the earthquake, but the structure would likely be unusable from that point forward.
The new bridge, by comparison, would be able to withstand anything up to a magnitude 9.0 event.
The report also shows that the tunnel has a higher-than-average number of accidents, and those tend to be more severe than ones on open roads. The tunnel and adjacent interchange saw an average of 300 collisions annually between 2009 and 2013, 40 per cent of which resulted in injury or death. It is estimated that a bridge would reduce the number of collisions by 35 per cent.
Congestion in and around the tunnel coupled with the lack of a shoulder can make it difficult for first responders to reach accidents, sometimes forcing them to approach the site on foot while carrying all the necessary gear.
The design of the tunnel’s sprinkler system leaves it vulnerable to damage from large trucks. According to the report, the tunnel’s sprinkler system was damaged twice between June 23 and July 1, 2017. The second incident rendered the entire system inoperable, leaving the tunnel with no sprinkler or standpipe firefighting capabilities. As of the writing of the report (July 5), the system was still down, though it was fixed by July 7.
Mayor Lois Jackson said the safety of commuters and first responders, as well as the economic implications of losing the tunnel for any significant length of time, is being overlooked for the sake of politics.
“That group of people (BC NDP, BC Green Party and Metro Vancouver) wanted to unseat the provincial government, and they did. That was it,” Jackson said. “I think it’s a devastating travesty, I really do, for the people and the economy. I don’t know how you can make this a political thing right now. It’s done.”
Premier-designate John Horgan has said he will defer to Metro Vancouver mayors, who have been unanimous in their opposition to the project save for Mayor Jackson, a decision that has bridge supporters nervous.
Jackson criticized the way some Metro Vancouver mayors shut out others at the table in order to push their own agendas.
“The [Greater Vancouver] Regional District mayors have turned into a boys club, and they put together what they want and everybody else is out-voted. There’s nothing you can do, you might as well just go home, really, except you have to keep up to speed with what everybody is doing,” she said.
“They’ve all kind of glommed together so that, yeah, they got their Evergreen Line, they got the Canada Line, they’ve got all these lines in the past several years, but now when it comes to a need for us, they aren’t supporting.”
Copies of the report are being sent to the leaders of all three of B.C.’s main political parties, all provincial MLAs, all Metro Vancouver board members, the region’s chambers of commerce and boards of trade, Delta’s MP Carla Qualtrough and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council.
The report is also available on Delta’s website and at all three Delta libraries.