Years after scrapping the B.C. Liberal’s plan to build a bridge, the NDP government has decided to replace the current George Massey Tunnel with a new $4.15 billion eight-lane immersed-tube tunnel.
With that price tag, it’s project that requires efficiency, engagement and professionalism right from the start, says Chris Atchison, president of the BC Construction Association (BCCA).
“Out of the gate we’re looking for fair, open and transparent procurement processes out of the Ministry of Transportation,” he said. “We would like to work with them on this to help ensure that best practices are adhered to.”
The province announced the toll-free crossing plan aligns with regional interests and improves transit, cycling and walking connections across the Fraser River.
“A new crossing to replace the George Massey Tunnel will improve traffic flow and make travel by transit, walking and cycling more convenient and attractive, without costing commuters hundreds of dollars a year in unfair tolls,” said Rob Fleming, minister of transportation and infrastructure, during a press conference. “We’ve worked hard to make sure this is the right project for the region, and along with the other Highway 99 improvements getting underway, we’re getting people moving around in the region.”
Atchison expressed concerns that the next steps of the environmental scan and First Nations engagement may bring surprises similar to past experiences with oil and gas development but hoped that won’t be the case.
“This is an important and tremendous opportunity for skills training. Given that construction starts in four years, there’s an alignment with the time it takes to build an apprentice and the start of the project,” said Atchison. “But we must not forget that we are in a skilled worker shortage, and have been for over a decade, and it’s essential that industry and government work together now to ensure the project has the workers it needs at ground break.”
Officials stated the crossing will be open in 2030. Two of the eight lanes will be dedicated for bus rapid transit and there will be separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. In the interim, the province has started work to reduce traffic congestion by launching projects to improve transit and cycling infrastructure along the Highway 99 corridor and replace the Steveston Interchange.
Two options were presented in the business case, an eight-lane tunnel and eight-lane bridge. A Metro Vancouver task force, which included local government officials and First Nations leaders, preferred the tunnel option. The province stated the decision was made for the following reasons:
- It best meets regional vision/interests, as endorsed by the Metro Vancouver Board;
- it limits any new visual, noise, shading and lighting impacts over the life of the structure;
- it has the fewest impacts to agricultural land and will not introduce new navigational restrictions to the Fraser River;
- it allows for work to start immediately on the bottleneck areas of the Highway 99 corridor;
- it best facilitates the movement of trucks and cyclists with a much lower overall elevation change; and
- it provides protection from inclement weather.
The environmental assessment process includes ongoing engagement with Indigenous people. The province is also preparing for procurement. Officials said in the meantime improvements to transit and cycling infrastructure along Highway 99 will begin this fall, as will work on the new Steveston Interchange, which will be completed in 2025.
When asked if the project would be built under a community benefits agreement, the province responded with this statement: “We certainly believe that this project offers great community benefit opportunities for all types of skilled trades, as well as the training of our next generation of tradespeople. As we prepare for eventual construction of the new tunnel, we will be working with stakeholders on the types of opportunities to deliver community benefits.”
Atchison explained last minute demands for equity seeking groups and local hires don’t work and neither will preferential treatments towards a particular labour affiliation.
“Let the market decide, not ideology,” he said.
Transportation Investment Corporation will lead the delivery of the George Massey Crossing Project on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and will provide the controls, practices and other oversight.
The project has already gained national attention from federal election candidates with the Conservative Party recently announcing it would help with funding if elected.
“For too long, the federal government has left addressing gridlock in Vancouver on the back burner,” said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. “A Conservative government will immediately move to get shovels in the ground on critical infrastructure projects to create jobs and get the economy moving, and that includes replacing the George Massey Tunnel.”
O’Toole said Conservatives have long called for the crossing to be replaced but have been ignored.
“I am proud to support the Massey Tunnel replacement project as part of our plan to secure the future and improve the lives of British Columbians,” he said.
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