When it was opened to traffic in 1959 by Queen Elizabeth, B.C.’s George Massey Tunnel was celebrated as the first project in North America to use immersed tube technology.
More than 60 years later the aging tunnel on Highway 99, which runs underneath the Fraser River from Richmond to Delta, is now a key point of contention in the B.C. provincial election between the Liberals and the NDP.
The Liberals are eager to restart work on a 10-lane bridge cancelled by the NDP shortly after the last election in 2017. The cancellation came after four years of consultation with stakeholders. More than $11 million had already been awarded for site preparation contracts.
The NDP claims the bridge plans, which had been brewing since 2013, were rushed and poorly thought out. They are currently considering other options. Premier John Horgan said he expects the business case for replacement options to be completed this fall.
Metro Vancouver, a federation of the region’s municipalities, has endorsed quickly building a tunnel without tolls.
Metro Vancouver stated it is eager for a replacement to ease traffic woes. Back in 2017, government reports stated the tunnel was at capacity with more than 80,000 vehicles using it every day.
As early as 1981, residents were concerned about traffic and implemented counterflow measures to increase traffic flow during peak periods, which continues to operate today.
The province has also long been aware of serious seismic concerns.
“The tunnel was designed to the very limited seismic design considerations of the 1950s,” reads a report on tunnel replacement from the province. “Even with extensive seismic retrofit work, it is not practical to bring the tunnel to current seismic standards.”
The province completed structural upgrades to the tunnel to protect public safety and installed an early warning system to prevent access to the tunnel during seismic events greater than the one-in-275-year event.
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