The provincial government is going against the public's wishes in deciding to scrap the George Massey Tunnel.
That's the reaction from an expectedly irate Doug Massey over Premier Christy Clark's announcement
last Friday regarding plans to replace the 54-year-old underwater crossing with a bridge on the existing Highway 99 corridor. Construction is to begin in 2017.
The 80-year-old former municipal councillor and longtime community activist has already begun a campaign to stop the demolition of the tunnel named after his late father, who spearheaded construction of the structure more than a half-century ago.
Massey has launched an online petition that can be found at www.thepetitionsite.com or by typing "Retain the George Massey Tunnel after new crossing built across Fraser River" into a search engine.
At last Friday's Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Clark announced the provincial government would move ahead on replacing the tunnel with a bridge, noting congestion at the antiquated tube is frustrating for families and stalling the economy. The new bridge will improve travel times for transit, commuters and commercial users, and open the corridor to future rapid transit options, she said.
The premier announced the project at the UBCM two years ago, which was followed by a
series of public consultations to determine the type and location of a new crossing.
"With the Port Mann Bridge open to traffic and the South Fraser Perimeter Road nearing completion, we're moving to fix the next of B.C.'s worst traffic bottlenecks," said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone.
"Today, we're getting to work to develop a solution that will improve the movement of people and goods on a highway that is important to commuters, and vital to our Asia Pacific gateway," Stone added.
Massey said he and many other people aren't opposed to a new crossing, but most who responded to questionnaires during the initial consultation also favoured keeping the existing crossing.
Port Metro Vancouver's desire to scrap the tunnel took priority because it gets in the way of larger ships traversing the Fraser River, he said.
"The transportation minister even said we must move forward to export our resources at all costs. It's not about the people, it's just getting the goods out no matter what," Massey told the Optimist this week.
"They'll be doing irreparable damage to the Fraser River and the salmon runs and its designation as a Ramsar site. Never mind the tunnel would still be an important north-south connection," he said.
Longtime Richmond city councillor Harold Steves agreed, saying the only reason
for replacing the tunnel with a bridge is to allow massive coal shipments, Panamex supertankers carrying jet fuel and crude oil tankers to go up the river.
If the port allowed trucks to load at night, it would relieve traffic during rush hour, Steves said. All that would be needed would be to build a tunnel beside the existing one for light rapid transit to
Delta, White Rock and South Surrey, he noted, adding that is what had been originally planned in the 1970s.
Responding to the premier's announcement Friday, the port authority issued a statement applauding the selection of a bridge to replace the tunnel, noting
the port has been encouraging the government to take action to address the longstanding concern that the current crossing presents a barrier to continued growth for Fraser River terminals.
The port notes the single biggest challenge that the tunnel represents to oceangoing vessels is related to ship "draft," the depth of water required in order for those vessels to transit the river.
The port also said it looks forward to continuing its participation in the province's consultation to ensure that a new bridge provides sufficient clearance for vessels on the Fraser River. A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson told the Optimist future shipping requirements were part of the consideration in deciding on a replacement for tunnel. However, it was far from the only reason, the ministry says, noting the province needed to address "the very significant safety and congestion problems that exist and provide for traffic, pedestrian, cycling and transit improvements."
The existing tunnel has about 10 years of useful life remaining before major components will need to be completely replaced, the ministry notes. The premier's announcement was short on details about the project when it comes to road network changes on both sides of the river, as well as the total estimated cost.
The province says engineering and technical work is now underway to develop a project scope and business case for the new bridge and corridor improvements. That work will be presented for public discussion next spring.