A B.C. bridge project currently in limbo could cost less than originally estimated.
A recent report to Delta City Council by its corporate services department detailed issues surrounding the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project (GMTRP), including that the cost of the project was significantly lower than previously estimated.
In September of last year, the Government of British Columbia announced the GMTRP, proposed by the previous B.C. Liberal government, was going on hiatus pending an independent technical review. The provincial government also announced on Feb. 16 that it would move forward with construction of a $1.38-billion bridge to replace the Pattullo Bridge connecting New Westminster and Surrey, B.C.
The Massey report found while initial cost projections varied from the province’s estimate of $3.5 billion for a new bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel to $5.8 billion to both keep the tunnel and build a bridge on a new alignment, the low bid for bridge construction came in at $2.6 billion, “placing the bridge as the lowest cost option by a significant margin.”
“Obviously the people involved with the bidding sharpened their pencils and found a way to do the project for a billion less,” said Delta Mayor Lois Jackson. “It’s really a shame we can’t take advantage of that.”
The report further noted while the Pattullo Bridge project is only halfway through its environmental assessment process, the GMTRP is “shovel-ready,” with a completed environmental assessment and bidding process. The province has also already spent $40 million on technical studies with $100 million in total spent to get to the point of bridge construction, the report noted.
Another concern raised was the tunnel’s ability to withstand a seismic event. The report stated previous studies had determined it is not technically feasible to upgrade the existing tunnel to meet modern seismic standards, whereas a new bridge would have been built to current standards, along with upgrades to the major overpasses along Highway 99.
“We aren’t ready for a seismic event in B.C., and we’re always very concerned about that in Delta,” Jackson said. “I’m told by engineers that 6.5 (on the Richter scale) is the top level of endurance. There’s no respite from that worry.
“My understanding is that the tunnel is built on the floor of a river bed, and there would be a ‘jelly bowl’ effect (in the event of a quake), resulting in a lot of cracks,” Jackson said.
The report also stated Highway 99 is one of two “lifeline corridors” for earthquake emergency response and a “seismically-deficient structure such as the tunnel would cripple this lifeline corridor in even a moderate earthquake.”
Concerns have also been raised by other mayors in the Lower Mainland that despite 10 lanes on the proposed bridge, there would be traffic impacts on local roads and other bridges.
In a July 25, 2017 press release Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie urged the NDP provincial government to suspend the bridge project in favour of alternatives such as a second tunnel, but Jackson maintains the bridge would address not only current and future traffic concerns but add room for transit.
“With anything like this, you have to build 50 years down the road. The tunnel has three solid lanes clogged going north in the morning and south in the evening. We need the capacity to add to that, plus transit and HOV lanes,” Jackson said. “It’s a major corridor and a lot more attention should be paid by both levels of government.”
Jackson added she was initially encouraged by the NDP government’s evaluation process, since it had hired professional engineer Stan Cowdell of Westmar Project Advisors Inc. to lead an independent technical review. A report for the review is expected in spring 2018.
“Even so, we’ll have to wait until the dust settles and the Pattullo Bridge is built, and see how traffic flows, but that’s a long wait,” Jackson said. “This puts everything even further down the road. I’m very discouraged.”