A task force of Metro Vancouver mayors and councillors is urging the province to replace the existing George Massey Tunnel with an eight-lane immersed-tube tunnel — two of which will be dedicated to transit.
The recommendation was made Wednesday after an hours-long meeting that saw the task force mull over five other options to expand the beleaguered crossing between Richmond and Delta.
None of those options included the 10-lane bridge that had been approved by the previous BC Liberal government, and was consequently scrapped by the NDP government after an independent review.
Now that the recommendation has been made, Delta Mayor George Harvie said it’s time for the project to get a move-on.
“We’ve been going on this for 10 years,” he said after the vote. “We’ve got to get going on it.”
Harvie hinted the lanes dedicated to transit could be converted to light-rail train service in the future.
The immersed-tube tunnel option has been projected to cost about the same as a bridge option and would be “moderately challenging,” according to a Metro Vancouver report to the task force.
Immersed tube tunnel construction refers to the use of prefabricated tunnel segments which are moved to the construction site and assembled in the river.
It would require one kilometre of tunneling, a large staging area, and the removal of 1.5 million cubic metres of salt-contaminated soil.
The report says it would have the greatest environmental impact during construction, requiring excavation on both sides of the river, along with the most complex environmental assessment due to potential impacts to fish habitat.
These options also require ground densification along the entire tunnel route, and would likely require two construction seasons, according to the report.
However, the report says the immersed-tube tunnel would cost a third of the money it would take to build a deep-bore tunnel.
Both an eight-lane and six-lane deep-bore tunnel were considered, along with a new six-lane immersed-tube tunnel that would retain the existing tunnel for two lanes of transit.
The task force also debated an eight-lane bridge with a multi-use pathway, and a six-lane bridge that would also retain the existing tunnel for transit.
Now that the task force has made it recommendation, it will be forwarded to Metro Vancouver’s finance committee and full board, and will later undergo public engagement, including with affected city councils.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said a business case could be presented by next year for the tunnel project if it gains approval in each of those steps.
But BC Liberal MLA for Richmond-Queensborough Jas Johal said the environmental reviews for a new tunnel could set the project back a decade.
“We’ve done the consultation process,” Johal said about the 10-lane bridge. “We spent $80 million, and all we got were piles of sand on the side of the highway in Richmond and Ladner.”
—With files from Simon Little and Ted Chernecki