The constraints of the George Massey Tunnel don’t reliably allow for rapid or safe emergency response to crashes, according to a report by Delta first responders.
The findings are being brandished by Transportation Minister Todd Stone as further evidence of the benefits of the proposed new toll bridge to replace the tunnel.
“The report details just how difficult and dangerous it is to provide an emergency response in the confines of the tunnel,” Stone said. “It notes instances of where first responders have had to walk in to help people, or carry in jaws-of-life and other equipment as their vehicles couldn’t get close.”
Access is limited both by chronic congestion and the lack of a shoulder lane so fire trucks or ambulances can bypass other traffic, according to the report.
“This can cause significant delays in the provision of critical care,” the Delta report said, citing cases where crews couldn’t get close enough except on foot, or where they had to wait for traffic to clear the counterflow lane.
There are an average of 300 crashes a year at the Massey Tunnel, more than 40 per cent higher than the provincial average for other stretches of highway, and the crash rate is double the provincial average for northbound traffic.
A fire in the tunnel can threaten crash victims, the report said, and also pose health and safety risks for emergency responders, who have had to enter the tunnel despite heavy black smoke on some occasions.
It gave the example of a fatal collision involving a car explosion that filled the tunnel with smoke.
“Responding police officers could not breathe due to the smoke, resulting in delays and health concerns for officers.”
The tunnel is not expected to withstand a major earthquake, while the transportation ministry says the new bridge would be built to modern seismic standards.
Stone said more space and better sightlines on the bridge are expected to reduce crashes by 35 per cent, and allow faster and safer emergency response.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, the lone Metro Vancouver mayor in strong support of the $3.5-billion bridge project, has previously argued emergency response is a key point in favour of the tunnel replacement.