It's exactly 7: 45 on a chilly Monday morning as long-time councillor Bruce McDonald and former mayor Doug Husband pull out of the parking lot at Delta municipal hall.
The planned route for this journey is short - they will drive from Ladner through the George Massey Tunnel, exiting onto Steveston Highway before looping back through the tunnel to the hall - only about 16 kilometres from start to finish. How long it will take remains to be seen.
McDonald has taken Husband up on his Tour de Tunnel Time Trial challenge. The former mayor, and current Optimist columnist, issued the challenge in his Jan. 18 column.
Having been a regular tunnel commuter since 1959, Husband is well versed in the frustration and anxiety that can come from using the tube during rush hour. Even with the counterflow lane, which Husband helped instigate while on Delta council in the 1980s, drivers routinely face long lines during the morning and afternoon rush.
"This is a decades-old problem," Husband wrote in his column. "We need an advocate who will work with adjacent municipalities and put pressure on our provincial government."
The former civic politician and life-long Ladner resident put the challenge to the municipality's elected officials because, he says, none currently use the tunnel daily as a commuter.
McDonald, a retired air traffic controller, drove through the tunnel daily for two years after he and his wife moved to Delta and settled in Beach Grove. In 1986 the couple moved to Sunshine Hills in North Delta and driving over the Alex Fraser Bridge replaced his daily commute through the tunnel.
7: 48 a.m.
McDonald makes the left turn onto Highway 17 from Ladner Trunk Road.
So far, it's smooth sailing. Conditions are optimal for the morning commute. The roads are dry, it's cloudy but the rain hasn't hit yet and there are no stalls or accidents. Traffic is moving well towards the interchange but slows as McDonald and Husband reach the Highway 17 overpass.
"It was always busy," McDonald says of his experience commuting through the tunnel.
He says there were two main factors that contributed to the past and current traffic headaches in the area - the construction of the Tsawwassen ferry terminal and the container port at Roberts Bank.
McDonald says the ferry terminal sees six million cars heading to Vancouver Island every year.
"And unless they're stacking them up on the Island, they're all coming back."
It takes just one incident in the area to bring traffic to a standstill on any of the major crossings, McDonald says.
"There's no place to hide. The traffic is brutal no matter what. If something happens everyone moves over to another crossing." 7: 56 a.m.
Two herons are keeping watch over traffic from the grassy area in the middle of the interchange as the car merges onto northbound Highway 99. Traffic is moving. It's slow at about 20 km/h, but it's moving.
McDonald drives under the Highway 17 overpass and merges into the far right lane in order to take the Steveston Highway exit.
The exit is one that has a significant impact on tunnel traffic, Husband says.
The far right northbound lane has a tendency to get backed up as vehicles stack up in the exit lane.
8: 01 a.m.
McDonald reaches the mid-point of the tunnel and encounters the first full traffic stoppage of the trip.
Traffic in the right lane comes to a full stop while the left lane continues to move relatively swiftly through the tunnel. The councillor's vehicle slowly inches forward and a few minutes later, at 8: 04 a.m., emerges on the other side.
Last year both Coun. Ian Paton and Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington championed the idea of converting the seldom-used turnoff lane, which also serves the seasonal visitor information centre, into a dedicated traffic lane for vehicles taking the Steveston Highway exit.
It would be an excellent, and inexpensive, short-term solution to help keep traffic moving, McDonald and Husband agree.
8: 08 a.m.
After emerging from the tunnel and wading through the back up on the Steveston Highway exit, McDonald and Husband make their way along the overpass and by 8: 11 they are merging back onto Highway 99 - this time heading south into Ladner.
They agree that changes to the Steveston overpass could also help keep traffic moving. The addition of another lane to the two-lane stretch would allow more cars to get through the light and ease some of the back up.
The provincial government launched public consultation late last year on its plan to replace the tunnel.
McDonald, the newly minted B.C. Liberal candidate for Delta South, says he would like to see the tunnel remain in operation with an additional crossing built to help take some of the pressure off it.
However, he believes the port authority would like to see a full replacement of the tunnel.
"I think there's a place for the tunnel," Husband says. "I'd like to see further crossings."
8: 22 a.m.
After making the slow but steady trek back through the tunnel, McDonald pulls back into the parking lot at municipal hall.
It took 37 minutes to drive the 16-kilometre route on this morning. It should, Husband says, only take about 10 to 15 minutes to drive the same distance outside of rush hour.
While this particular trip was not a good example of how bad the back up can get for local commuters, it did serve as a reminder of where the problems lie and how bad weather, one stall or crash, or even a little extra volume, can bring traffic to a standstill.