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Richmond tables demands for new bridge

A rendering of what a new bridge on the Highway 99 corridor could look like. The provincial government intends to start construction on the project, which would replace the George Massey Tunnel, in 2017.  -
A rendering of what a new bridge on the Highway 99 corridor could look like. The provincial government intends to start construction on the project, which would replace the George Massey Tunnel, in 2017.
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Agriculture, architecture and the need for rapid transit are among city council's concerns with a provincial project to replace the George Massey Tunnel.

Civic politicians decided Monday to urge Ministry of Transportation officials to consider a made-in-Richmond list of objectives for a planned bridge. The new South Arm span has yet to be designed, but could be a 10-lane cable-stayed structure modelled after the Alex Fraser Bridge.

Key among council's concerns is the potential impact to farmland. The bridge option being pursued is said to have the least impact on farmland on both sides of the river, but the full extent of land requirements is not yet known. Council's wish is a "net zero" loss—or even a gain—of farmland.

Council is also pushing for the inclusion of rapid transit on a bridge it says should be "iconic."

"If they are going to give us a bridge, I think it's important that we ask them that it be an iconic bridge, frankly," said Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt. "Architecturally it can be designed so that it is a visual gateway into Richmond."

Construction on the new bridge is scheduled to begin in 2017. Each direction of the 10-lane bridge could include three general purpose lanes, a transit/HOV lane and a lane for trucks or future rapid transit. There's been no decision on tolls, but they're likely, staff say.

Richmond council's list of objectives also urges the province to reduce congestion, not simply move it elsewhere, and ultimately get more people out of their cars.

Last year just 27 per cent of the region's trips were completed by a method other than a private vehicle, according to a staff report. TransLink has a goal to increase that to over 50 per cent. For local politicians, achieving that means the bridge should give priority to transit and high-occupancy vehicles, while also offering improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.

Coun. Harold Steves said Monday the bridge will come at a cost to farmland, and create more traffic congestion and greenhouse gasses. Since removing the tunnel would open the river to larger vessels capable of transporting jet fuel and coal, Steves suggested the new structure be called "the bridge to climate change."

Mayor Malcolm Brodie said the project will face significant challenges in funding and easing congestion at the Oak Street Bridge, and called it "first and foremost a shipping project."

"This is a way to clear that channel for the biggest ships in the world to come up the South Arm of the Fraser River. Not just to Richmond, but to Fraser Surrey Docks, to New Westminster," he said. "I think we're going to see great changes in that entire area, but they can't do those changes as long as that tunnel is there."

Richmond resident Michael Wolfe told council it was "admitting defeat" in its battle against the jet fuel pipeline—a project that recently cleared an environmental assessment hurdle.

"If you are approving this then how can you think that you are against the jet fuel pipeline? By not stopping this at this current report, you are going ahead with this. You have basically given up on protecting the city from the jet fuel pipeline."

Premier Christy Clark announced in September 2012 the province would begin a process to replace the tunnel. The core project involves a new bridge, interchanges at both ends and the removal of the tunnel due to the ongoing maintenance costs that would be required. Also being considered is an expansion of Highway 99 from Bridgeport Road to the Canada-U.S. border.

Coun. Ken Johnston said traffic improvements are needed to the "nightly tunnel horror show," and it's important for council to state its position.

"The status quo just doesn't work for me, and what I'm hearing from the residents of Richmond and certainly the people in East Richmond, the status quo is not acceptable."

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