The bridge across the mighty Fraser: Vancouver infrastructure, federal funding and a provincial dilemma (by Peter van der Velden)

Gov BC image of bridge replacing George Massey Tunnel, from YouTube(This opinion piece contributed by Peter van der Velden challenges the rationale, processes, and assumptions behind the Province’s abrupt announcement in 2014 of a decision to build a new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel, and proposes a fifth option for crossing the Fraser. Reprinted from MetroVanWatch.)

Vancouver infrastructure: Federal Funding and a Provincial Dilemma

  1. The bridge across the mighty Fraser

Promises of Federal infrastructure funding and recent transparency issues with our Provincial government have brought the planned bridge across the Fraser River back into focus. Questions dating back to 2014 about the public input process have been renewed. These points have been accentuated by recent revelations about the lack of any documentation on the background to the decision. Apparently the business plan is still being put together after missing two deadlines. And yet, the decision to move forward has long since been made. Freedom of Information requests regarding the decision making process have shown little success. Les Leyne of the Victoria Times Columnist reported in an article of June 4, 2014 that a 14 page FOI response on the business plan was largely redacted.

2. Some serious concerns and questions have been raised.

One of the main questions that concern a lot of people is: Why is the tunnel being forsaken?

It is clear from recent work on the almost identical Maas tunnel in Rotterdam that the Massey tunnel is expected to continue to be very functional for years to come. The Maas tunnel is 20 years older than the Massey tunnel, and has recently been upgraded making it viable for an indefinite time. $20 Million has been spent on seismic upgrading to the body of the Massey tunnel. Another $17 Million was identified to deal with the access points and the ventilation equipment. These costs are paltry compared to the proposed $3 billion cost of the proposed bridge. It seems that dismantling the tunnel will be an unnecessary expense when it could be a part of the solution, to the traffic issues, and not the problem.

3. Is a bridge the answer?

Another crossing of the Fraser for highway 99 is definitely in order. However, placing a bridge at the location of the tunnel will mean two things. First, this major traffic artery will be compromised for a period of 3-5 years during construction. The current bumper to bumper rush hour from White Rock will become an increased burden for everyone in Delta/South Surrey, not to mention commercial and tourism traffic from the border. The second issue is this: Present traffic from the tunnel to the Oak street corridor is already a problem as it approaches the Oak Street Bridge.

4. How will the bridge affect the Oak Street corridor?

The Province has given us some stated statistics for Richmond drop-offs after coming through the tunnel.  The government claims that the larger percentage of traffic from the tunnel stops in Richmond. However, you just need to experience the Oak Street bottle neck to understand a ten lane bridge leading to this corridor will not make the problem go away. The bridge will not improve the traffic numbers in the Oak Street corridor; it will only increase this traffic. The increase in urban sprawl it will bring to the South Delta area will continue to draw from the Vancouver work force intensifying the need for transportation infrastructure.

5. How did the public consultation assist the decision for the proposed bridge?

The announcement to build a bridge was made in September 2012 with planning for the bridge to start immediately. The planned bridge is supposed to be a direct result of public consultations held from November 2012 through 2013. A process the government called “exploring the options”. Sadly the options presented for the consultations all led to support the construction of a bridge.

6. Proposed alternatives to the tunnel

The alternatives were: To retain the tunnel, (without any additional crossings built); a bridge built replacing the tunnel  connecting to the existing Highway 99 in Richmond, adding a bridge alongside the tunnel ( again, directing traffic back to highway 99 in Richmond); and replacing the tunnel with a new tunnel. Finally, the last option was to build a new bridge with a new corridor back to Highway 99 and maintaining the tunnel. All the alternatives were not well enough developed to qualify as viable options. The final option was supposedly not acceptable due to the perceived loss of agricultural land and the onset of urban sprawl. By improving the access to and from Delta with any of the options, urban sprawl will follow.

7. If not a bridge to replace the tunnel, what is the answer?

This is a great question. A question that brings to light more questions. What is the ultimate goal? Is it to improve traffic across the Fraser? Is it to have more land for residential development? Is it to have deeper hull ships reach the Fraser Surrey docks? Is it to develop the Fraser harbors and Industrial land and better utilize the South Fraser Perimeter Road? Is this a political decision or a planning decision?

8. What is driving the new crossing?

Vancouver is a growing residential and commercial center. Because of its location and climate this will continue, driving a need for residential and industrial land. The main driver behind replacing the tunnel is Port Metro Vancouver (PMV). PMV wants the tunnel removed in order to facilitate deeper hulled vessels moving through to the Fraser Surrey docks. Is this a realistic driver for removal of the tunnel? This started out as primarily a planning exercise in transit infrastructure to “ease congestion”. The original public feedback listed “jobs and the economy” in fourth place after efficient transport, safety and the environment. Somehow in the final report “jobs and the economy” moved ahead of “easing congestion”. How did that happen?

9. What should be driving this decision?

One of the concerns of this planning process is that all information is based on existing traffic patterns. It is a given that, as with the construction of the tunnel, the bridge will change traffic patterns as well as the Delta population base. The proposed bridge does nothing to alleviate existing congestion at the Oak Street and Knight Street corridors. These issues should be central to the discussion if the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) is to be served by this plan. It would make better planning sense to look at future needs of the GVRD. Especially when the Province is planning to spend an (estimated) $3 billion on this project. How can this one bridge possibly serve future needs when it does not address the existing problems? The planning for this crossing should be based strictly on present and future transit needs. The need for Industrial land, residential land or the needs of PMV should be considered, but should be  side bars of/to the decision making process.

10. What would be a logical solution?

One option that did not have close scrutiny is the fifth option. A bridge, but placed near No. 8 Road. If this bridge has a connecting road and bridge to Burnaby it would take traffic away from the existing Oak Street and Knight Street corridors. This option would upgrade the tunnel and allow re-routing traffic from the existing overloaded corridors and keep unnecessary traffic out of Richmond and the Vancouver center. The main opposition to this was the agricultural community in Richmond. This is understandable. However, eventually this road will become a necessity. Especially given the likely growth of Delta if the ten lane bridge is built. It would be logical –and just good planning- to build this bridge instead of the ten lane bridge planned at the tunnel. It would save the tunnel, save agricultural land in the long run and allow for a more holistic plan to serve all of the GVRD. Understanding the possibilities means that there must be more plans out there that would make infinitely more sense than the proposed bridge.

11. Federal involvement?

The newly elected Federal government has put a high priority on infrastructure and listed Vancouver as one of the possible recipients of funding. This opportunity to effect change should not be wasted.  The possibility of actually planning and building a transportation network that will improve traffic for the GVRD is long overdue, and the proposed bridge is nothing but an expensive stop-gap measure.  The North/South movement of traffic needs to be improved from the border, but a plan to integrate this with East/West traffic should be integral to the outcome. The present proposal is linear and really only addresses the issue of crossing the Fraser and with no real outlook to future needs.

12. Speak up!

This is the time to let your new MP’s know that you want a better plan with accountability. If the Federal Government wants to put tax money into infrastructure let’s make sure that the effort and money is not wasted. This is a great city. With the Provincial Government working with the Municipalities and the Federal Government it can even be better. Talk to your MLA and your MP. Let them know that you expect more!

Peter van der Velden, Facilities Management Consultant, Tsawwassen
November 6, 2015

******

RECENT ARTICLES

Non-responses to legitimate questions damage B.C. Liberals’ credibility – Critics don’t need to do much more than watch them make fools of themselves. (Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, 6-Nov- 2015)
http://www.vancouversun.com/news/vaughn+palmer+responses+legitimate+questions+damage+liberals+credibility/11496465/story.html

Where is the long overdue Massey Tunnel business plan? Deadlines passed: Spring 2014, summer 2015, and now ‘due for release soon,’ the transportation minister says. Vaughn Palmer in the Vancouver Sun
(http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/vaughn+palmer+where+long+overdue+massey+tunnel/11490272/story.html)

Difficult to know how premier made her decision on bridge (Ian Robertson, Delta Optimist
October 30, 2015)
http://www.delta-optimist.com/opinion/difficult-to-know-how-premier-made-her-decision-on-bridge-1.2100107

BASIC INFORMATION

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Massey_Tunnel

Construction videos with dramatic music to match a Perry Mason movie;

If you’re concerned about environmental impacts this is a link to Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. They’re especially informed on the thermal coal issues.
http://www.vtacc.org/vtacc_template.php?content=home

The BC government information site hasn’t changed and is:
http://engage.gov.bc.ca/masseytunnel/information-centre/document-library/

CBC article about concerns from Richmond:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/george-massey-tunnel-replacement-bridge-raises-concerns-for-richmond-1.3170226

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