With the public consultation on replacing the George Massey Tunnel about to get underway tomorrow, I increasingly wonder whether we're on a road to the past.
There's little doubt the antiquated tube is a bane for commuters, acting as a choke point for traffic trying to make its way across the Fraser River. Replacing it would appear to be a no-brainer, but I'm dubious whether we'll be a whole lot further ahead should a new bridge come on stream.
It's been proven time and again the capacity provided by a new crossing is quickly swallowed up by a corresponding increase in traffic. It happened with the tunnel, then again with the Alex Fraser Bridge and you can see it unfolding with the new Port Mann Bridge.
I couldn't help but chuckle when the traffic helicopter on the morning news the other day showed a long lineup of cars westbound on Highway 1. There's nothing terribly unusual about congestion along the Trans-Canada, but I thought a $2 billion crossing opening earlier in the month might have made some sort of difference.
Perhaps I should give the situation the benefit of the doubt as there could be some kinks to be worked out with the road network there, but you can bet if the new bridge offers any extra capacity it will be consumed, and then some, by all the development taking place in the Fraser Valley.
Out here, we've already got three lanes going with the predominant flow during rush hour, yet the tunnel still can't keep traffic moving. Given a new crossing is at least a decade off, and unlikely to be any wider than four lanes, it's not a stretch to think it could be obsolete before it opens.
The bottom line is we can't build highways and bridges quickly enough to keep pace with a sprawling population, so do we continue to try, only to find we're always one or two costly steps behind, or do we look at other ways of moving people around the region?
The obvious choice is the latter, but our preferred rapid transit technology is so prohibitively expensive it makes expanding the network in any meaningful way a pipe dream. A cheaper alternative could do the trick, but government seems unwilling to embrace such an idea.
Replacing the outdated tunnel with a new crossing would most definitely be an upgrade, but the more our transportation network caters to private vehicles, the more it will struggle to keep pace with a burgeoning region.
And that makes it hard to get too excited about replacing the tunnel.
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