Delta throwback: New bridge to ease tunnel congestion

It opened over three decades ago to ease congestion at the Massey Tunnel.

Connecting North Delta with Richmond and New Westminster, the now heavily used Alex Fraser Bridge officially opened on Sept. 22, 1986.

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Also known as the Annacis Bridge, but officially named after the province's highways minister at the time, the 465-metre span used just four lanes when it opened but it had the capability to convert to six lanes. It didn't take that long for the conversion to happen.


The longest cable-style bridge in the world at the time it opened, the Alex Fraser was expected to reroute almost 25 per cent of the traffic using the George Massey Tunnel and the Pattullo Bridge.

Some 37,000 vehicles were expected to use the crossing daily with commuters saving as much as 20 minutes each way. The volume is now around the 120,000 mark.

Also when the $444 million bridge opened, it was also reported that the "usual morning and late afternoon Massey Tunnel and Pattullo Bridge traffic tie-ups have almost disappeared." The new bridge was also described as a "blessing" for tunnel commuters.

However, then-mayor Ernie Burnett and other officials warned only time would tell if motorists would be able to continue flying quickly through those other crossings.


delta optimist throwback


According to a 2015 report by the transportation ministry, justifying Liberal government’s the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project which was subsequently killed by the NDP government, the Alex Fraser has absorbed almost all of the traffic volume growth because of the lack of available capacity at the tunnel.

“The four-lane tunnel operates with a counter-flow system during the rush hour period, with only one lane open in the non-peak direction. Traffic volumes in the non-peak direction have grown steadily over the past 15 years. Traffic volumes outside of the rush hour period have also grown to the point where the tunnel is close to capacity throughout the day…”


The report also notes that due to the tunnel having exceeded capacity, there is no longer a viable alternative route for tunnel users since the Alex Fraser is now also congested at peak periods.

A major upgrade project is underway for the bridge. Four lanes are now available for southbound traffic, with three lanes remaining for northbound. A rush hour counter flow will also be coming.

The speed limit has recently gone down from 90 km/h to 70 km/h.

The project’s total budget is just over $70 million with the federal government contributing nearly $34 million and the B.C. government contributing just over $36 million.


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