Massey Tunnel fix could be ‘deadly’ for farmland

The George Massey Tunnel opened in 1959 and is now congested more than four hours a day. Premier Christy Clark has pledged to replace it.  - Mark Patrick file photo
The George Massey Tunnel opened in 1959 and is now congested more than four hours a day. Premier Christy Clark has pledged to replace it.
— image credit: Mark Patrick file photo

A veteran city councillor is convinced the province is aiming to replace the George Massey Tunnel with a mega-bridge that will pave farmland.

“A mega-bridge is on its way, either at Steveston Highway or at No. 8 Road,” said Coun. Harold Steves. “Either one of them is deadly, because it will destroy the agricultural capability on both sides of the river.”

The 42-year councillor said yesterday he believes senior officials want to build a high-altitude bridge, which would solve the depth problem supertankers face in traversing the river over the tunnel.

“It’s unnecessary. Put in light rapid transit, you don’t need a mega-bridge,” he said. “Leave the tunnel as is, and keep the supertankers out of the river. We don’t want them.”

Last Friday, Premier Christy Clark pledged to begin work to replace the tunnel and ease traffic congestion on Highway 99. Speaking to civic politicians at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria, she said planning for the 10-year project has begun, but wouldn’t say whether the new structure would be a bridge or a tunnel.

Steves said Ministry of Transportation officials have previously mulled a high-altitude bridge farther into East Richmond and now have another reason to give the plan further thought—the proposal from the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation.

The corporation is proposing to build a pipeline between the airport and a marine terminal near Riverport. Deep-draft tankers would transport fuel up the Fraser River’s South Arm and feed the pipeline.

Richmond council is against the plan, which has been under an environmental assessment review since March 2010.

Steves favours an old idea of augmenting the existing tunnel with a light rail transit facility, providing a critical link to an at-grade transit system linking the Canada Line to White Rock.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said in principle a new crossing is a good thing, but it all depends on what is proposed and whether a major incursion onto farmland is envisioned.

“It could be very very significant what they have in mind,” he said. “The idea of decongesting that corridor is appealing but it has to be done with a bigger plan in mind, one that’s acceptable.”

Brodie said he’s disappointed Clark didn’t address the immediate problem of congestion. The solution to that, he said, is getting people out of their cars and onto public transit.

“If the premier really wanted to address the problem now there would have been some announcement about sustainable funding sources being provided to TransLink so that they can address their issues,” he said.

“There is this expression that you can’t build your way out of congestion. While that’s not universally true, just to put more river crossing infrastructure there without thinking about the bigger picture would be a mistake.”

Transportation Minister Mary Polak said consultations with stakeholders will look at whether to pursue a bridge or tunnel, whether to use the current alignment or shift it, and how to pay for it.

“It’s fair to say that there will be all number of options discussed as we begin the planning of this,” she said. “One of those might be tolls but it is too early to tell.”

NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said there are real benefits to replacing the tunnel, particularly with a bridge instead.

“You could have ships with a deeper draft go further up the river up to Fraser port in Surrey,” Ralston said, adding there’s no doubt traffic outstrips the tunnel’s capacity.

But he called Clark’s announcement vague and nearly meaningless.

“It is so far out in the future that it really amounts to just a declaration of intention,” he said.

Ralston said the announcement seems at odds with the province’s latest quarterly financial report signaling huge reductions in capital spending.

The tunnel opened in 1959 and is now congested more than four hours a day.

—with files from Jeff Nagel

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