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Delta throwback: End on horizon for 64-year-old tunnel

The new crossing has yet to be named
An April 1964 photo of the last toll paid at the tunnel by former MLA George Massey. He received a bronze medallion in return from toll collector Bill Aldous. Also on hand for the event was Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi.

It but will take a few more years but countdown is on for the end of the George Massey Tunnel.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says the new toll-free, eight-lane tunnel crossing between Delta and Richmond will be completed in 2030.

The decommissioning of the existing tunnel will be completed in 2032.

Opened in May 1959, the current tunnel was originally called the Deas Island Tunnel.

The structure was renamed the George Massey Tunnel in 1967, three years after his death.

Massey was the driving force in getting a tunnel crossing, first visualizing Delta having such a structure when he moved to the community in the mid-1930s.

Serving a term as Delta's MLA for the Socreds in the late '50s, Massey is credited as a visionary whose maritime experience proved that a tunnel was preferable to a bridge for a river crossing.

Despite gathering data proving it could be built, it took years of lobbying by Massey and others to convince the province to build the $23 million project, which took roughly a couple of years to complete.

An article in a June 1947 issue of the Optimist outlined plans provided by Massey, who acquired details from the engineering firm Christiani and Nielsen, experienced in tunnel building in Europe.

It was in 1956 when the Social Credit government announced a tunnel would be built, climaxing years of hard work by the Lower River Fraser Crossing Improvement Association, which at its peak had a membership of more than 400.

Massey was the group’s vice-president.

Highways minister Phil Gaglardi at an association meeting said a new tunnel was chosen over a bridge because it would be cheaper and more efficient.

At a celebration banquet in 1959, Lassen Nielsen, head of the firm which designed the structure and supervised its construction, predicted that in the not-so-distant future the new tunnel would be too small to handle growing traffic volumes.

One year after it opened, Massey reported to Delta council that nearly three million vehicles had travelled through the new crossing, scoffing at critics who predicted less than a million would be seen.

The tunnel was tolled until 1964 when he paid the ceremonial final toll.