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Provincial uncertainty putting tension on transportation plans in Delta

George Massey Tunnel replacement bridge could be halted under NDP, Green government
Grace Kennedy photo Protesters attended the George Massey Tunnel replacement bridge ground breaking in South Delta on April 5. Delta Mayor Lois Jackson is worried about whether an NDP and Green government would see the replacement bridge halted.

The uncertainty in the provincial government is creating tension for transportation south of the Fraser, both for Delta and TransLink.

In a presentation to Delta council on May 29, executive director of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council Mike Buda noted the difficulties of advancing transit improvements when B.C.’s governing party is still undecided.

“All three parties in legislature — likely two of which will be cooperating in some way to actually form and advance a government — are going to have fairly limited amount of attention … to make key decisions … to support better transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver,” Buda said.

The BC NDP and the B.C. Green party have announced a four-year agreement to work together in the legislature. This gives the NDP the support of 44 MLAs behind issues such as budgets and confidence motions.

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark is still the premier; she would be replaced by BC NDP leader John Horgan if she loses a confidence vote in the legislature.

Of particular interest to both Delta and TransLink is how bridges will be managed under either new government, both for provincially-owned bridges like the George Massey Tunnel replacement bridge and TransLink-owned bridges like the Pattullo.

Both the Liberals and the NDP have made commitments to changing the tolling regime on bridges.

The Liberals promised to cap tolls at $500 a year for commuters. The NDP promised to eliminate tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, currently the only two tolled bridges over the Fraser River. The Port Mann is a provincially-owned bridge and the Golden Ears is a TransLink-owned bridge.

This would have a major effect on TransLink’s 10-Year Vision, which includes the construction of a replacement bridge for the 80-year-old Pattullo Bridge.

The new bridge, which is scheduled to open in 2023, would be a four-lane bridge with the potential to expand to six-lanes in the future. It would be built just upstream from the current bridge, and feature better connections with Highway 17 and King George Boulevard.

TransLink is heavily reliant on tolls to fund the Pattullo replacement, which in 2014 was estimated to cost $1 billion. Only one third of the bridge funding would come from the provincial government, leaving much of the remaining funding to come via user-tolls.

“We actually need a decision on this by July … to avoid delaying that project, which could actually result potentially in the closure of the bridge” before the new bridge is built, Buda said during council.

“We’re in the dying days and weeks of getting provincial approval for its share of the bridge.”

For Delta councillors, TransLink’s focus on the Pattullo’s replacement isn’t good enough. They noted the George Massey Tunnel replacement bridge wasn’t included in TransLink’s 10-Year Vision, either for construction or for future transit options.

Buda explained that the Massey Bridge is a provincially-owned project, meaning it is not included in TransLink’s vision.

Although the bridge is designed to include lanes for future light rail or transit options, those transportation methods aren’t referenced in the vision, as it only incorporates transit strategies for infrastructure TransLink controls.

The Metro Vancouver region includes infrastructure that is owned by the provincial government, municipal governments and TransLink. Delta councillors and staff put a heavy emphasis on the importance of coordinating all infrastructure projects in the region.

“They all need to fit together,” Delta CAO George Harvie said about bridge and transit upgrades. “Otherwise one failure is going to affect the whole grid, as we find every time we have a one-car accident on the Alex Fraser.”

Of more immediate concern to Delta council is the possibility that the Massey Bridge won’t be going forward at all.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson is concerned that an NDP/Green government would see the cancellation of the Massey Tunnel replacement — an infrastructure project she has endorsed from the beginning.

The Greens have committed to suspending work on the replacement bridge and the NDP said they would defer to the Mayors’ Council, which is opposed to the project.

“It’s a big responsibility being basically the only one that’s supporting the bridge,” Jackson said.

Although the potential loss of the replacement bridge is an immediate issue, Jackson said, it plays into the larger concern of Metro Vancouver’s transportation planning as a whole.

“It would seem to be terribly self-defeating to be placing all the funding, all the emphasis, all the pressure, on any government for those bridges and projects that you’re talking about, and not dealing with the others,” Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said.

“I think you have to deal with them all. And I don’t know how we can leave out the Alex Fraser, and how we can leave out the Massey Tunnel.”

Buda agreed, saying that there needs to be “much better planning between the three levels of government.”

“We want the new government to work collaboratively with the mayors — not just on the 10-Year Vision, but to think about different ways of ensuring the provincial transportation plan and the regional transportation plan are better intertwined.”

For now, however, the Massey Bridge will remain off the books for TransLink’s 10-Year Vision. Depending on how the coming days and weeks play out, it could be off the province’s books as well.

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