The George Massey Tunnel should be replaced, but not by a 10-lane bridge.
That’s the consensus reached by a B.C government-commissioned review of the project released Monday, which suggests the NDP undertake a new feasibility study on how best to improve the aging and congested crossing, including fresh consultation with local First Nations and the TransLink Mayors’ Council.
WATCH: Political reactions to Massey Tunnel report, new Pattullo Bridge
The over 300-page technical review, which was completed by professional engineer Stan Cowdell and delivered to Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena in June, suggests the province either build an entirely new tunnel or a shorter, smaller bridge.
LISTEN: What will replace the Massey Tunnel?
That effectively puts the final nail in the coffin of the $3.5-billion, BC Liberal-approved 10-lane bridge concept, which the NDP put on pause in September 2017.
“People are frustrated with the unacceptable congestion and bottlenecks at the George Massey Tunnel, and we understand that,” Trevena told reporters Monday. “Had the former government looked at the options fully and objectively, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
WATCH: New government report on Massey Tunnel
The report says the 10-lane bridge concept “exceeds what is necessary for the region,” and suggests that any bridge that replaces the tunnel be built with six to eight lanes, which Cowdell argues would accommodate most of the traffic predicted for the region by 2045. Alternatively, it suggests an immersed tube-tunnel crossing with up to eight lanes,
Both options could also be built while keeping the existing tunnel in service, which would then be seismically upgraded to modern standards, the report suggested.
Trevena said consultation with local mayors and First Nations will begin in January 2019, with a new business case to be completed by fall 2020. In the meantime, she said the province will start working on immediate solutions to congestion on both sides of the tunnel, including improvements to nearby intersections.
The minister also announced investments for new safety improvements to the existing tunnel.
“Visibility is a huge concern,” Trevena said. “It’s difficult to adjust from the lighting outside while driving into the tunnel, whether it’s day or nighttime. We’ll convert to LED lighting both inside the tunnel and on the highway approaches to make it more comfortable for drivers and help reduce crashes.”
Improvements to the drainage, alarm, pumping, ventilation, fire door and electrical systems are also in the works, as well as resurfacing Highway 99 between Steveston Highway and the Highway 17 interchange.
The province has estimated a roughly $40-million price tag for these short-term improvements. While no costs have been estimated for either replacement option suggested in the report, it did say the tube tunnel option would potentially be less expensive than a new bridge.
The former B.C. Liberal government had already spent $70 million on preparatory work for the 10-lane bridge before the NDP halted construction.
WATCH: Coverage of the George Massey crossing on Globalnews.ca
BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson refused to let the current government hold Liberals responsible for the project’s delay, essentially accusing the NDP of standing around and doing nothing.
“This tunnel replacement has been on hold now for years,” Wilkinson said. “85,000 people in British Columbia are sick and tired of having the biggest traffic jam in western Canada, courtesy of the NDP. It’s time to get on with the project and fix this problem.”
Last month, a report to Richmond city council that included details of a meeting between Trevena and the newly-elected council hinted the bridge concept was dead in the water.
WATCH: B.C. Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena presents details from the Massey Tunnel replacement review
“Given that the previous project was cancelled, the minister advised that any future crossing improvement option would not include a 10-lane bridge,” the report read.
The cost to replace the aging tunnel with a 10-lane bridge had been pegged at $3.5 billion, however a report to Delta council last year found that a competing bid for the project indicated the work could be done for $2.6 billion.
Delta Mayor George Harvie said he will work closely with his fellow mayors in Richmond, Surrey and White Rock – as well as Chief Bryce Williams of the Tsawwassen First Nation – to jointly come up with a plan.
“Collectively, I want to have a working group that we can then put a unified position together to the Mayor’s Council and to the province,” Harvie said, adding the congestion has been causing economic problems and stress in the community that need to be addressed.
—With files from Sarah MacDonald and Simon Little