Metro board refuses to accept Massey bridge


[Editor's note: An issue for this year's provincial election - what can we do to stop this bridge?]

June 30, 2016 - Politicians representing municipalities from across the Lower Mainland are nearly unified in their opposition to a replacement bridge for the George Massey Tunnel connecting south Richmond to Delta.

On Wednesday, the Metro Vancouver board released its report on the bridge’s impact on regional planning, and concluded the new span will download costs onto cities, interrupt road networks and undermine the environment by inducing demand for more cars, while negatively affecting transit ridership.

“We recognize the necessity to enhance the movement of people and goods on Highway 99 and throughout the region, but the magnitude of a 10-lane bridge estimated at $3.5 billion, has not been demonstrated and cannot be justified,” said Greg Moore, chair of Metro Vancouver.

Largely at issue is how the bridge undermines the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year transportation plan, in so much that it will promote single-occupancy vehicle traffic and facilitate urban sprawl south of the Fraser River — the opposite of densification plans around existing and future rapid transit hubs.

“History has demonstrated the world over, you can’t reduce congestion by simply building more roads,” said Moore, via an online news release.

“This project represents an expansion of car-oriented infrastructure and diverts crucial funds from transportation projects that support the regional growth strategy,” added Moore.

Other concerns raised by Metro Vancouver include ecological disruption of the Fraser River, impacts on Metro Vancouver infrastructure, such as water mains and Deas Island Regional Park, downloading road improvement costs on Richmond and Delta, insufficient consideration to climate change and air quality and a lack of transparency with respect to design and construction, including a lack of consideration of alternatives.

B.C’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone, was quick to shoot back at the criticism on Wednesday.

Stone said the tunnel needs to be replaced before major work is needed on it, including seismic upgrades, which were last done in 2008.

“Safety is the primary reason for why we need to replace the tunnel and replace it soon,” said Stone.

With 200-kilometres of new or improved highway lanes, Stone said the new “green” bridge will be environmentally friendly as it will reduce idling and has an HOV lane.

But Metro is calling for a federal environmental review by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, confident a new federal government will consider the ecological impact of the bridge itself, as well as the increase in car traffic it will produce.

Stone maintains the bridge will be fitted to accept a rapid transit line.

Presently, the project is undergoing a provincial environmental review, something Metro Vancouver, as a stakeholder, has called “challenging” to provide input on more than 2,500 pages of documents in just 15 days.

Furthermore, Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver’s utilities committee, also estimated the project could impact between $500 million to $1 billion of regional “infrastructure and assets.”

Meanwhile, the City of Richmond submitted its ongoing concerns with the project, as part of the report.

Richmond city council has stated its preference to upgrade the existing tunnel or build a new one.

The city echoed concerns that the tolled bridge will negatively impact Richmond residents. It has called for equitable mobility pricing and/or bridge tolling across the region.

Richmond has also questioned the validity of traffic analyses (two surveys based on Bluetooth technology) and the fact that there have been no detailed reports on how traffic patterns will impact connecting local roads, particularly around bridges and interchanges.

On Friday, the Ministry applied to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to expand Highway 99. However, it maintains the project will result in a net increase in farmland, as highway right-of-ways will be returned to the ALR.

Richmond city council has asked for specific details on this issue, but has yet to receive any.

Council is also asking for a detailed explanation as to why the province went from a plan of possibly twinning the tunnel in 2006 to favouring a bridge in 2012.

Council and Metro Vancouver also maintain the province has been light on details as to the business case for the bridge, although some, such as Coun. Harold Steves, have insisted Port Metro Vancouver has lobbied successfully to remove the tunnel to usher in larger ships up the river.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson told media she disagreed with the board’s report. Jackson supports port expansion up river and Delta is hoping to add a casino nearby the planned bridge.