When will we find out whether the province wants to build a new tunnel or bridge?
That’s the multi-billion dollar question that’s been raised as a business case for a George Massey Tunnel replacement has been submitted by the province to the federal government for funding, but details of that submission, including what option has been chosen and its cost, are not being released to the public.
Delta Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Garry Shearer said it was back in September 2019 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood with Delta MP Carla Qualtrough at a campaign stop in Delta and assured “the money is there” for a replacement project.
Shearer said that early in 2020, Chamber members met with Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena and were told the business case would be completed by the fall of that year and made public.
“Now, 16 months later we're being told the feds have got the business case from the province for the GMT replacement. ‘What's being proposed in this business case?’ I asked Minister Qualtrough in a recent budget update to the Chamber. The Minister responded that she wasn't sure she could share that because it's confidential. Minister Kahlon couldn't give any details of the business case because, according to him, it hasn't been approved by cabinet. So what are the feds reviewing? Why the lack of transparency?” asked Shearer.
According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, discussions are ongoing with the federal government on cost-sharing for the new crossing and details will be announced when those discussions have wrapped up.
Sharing the business case with the public is standard practice, and that will be done once the project is announced, the ministry explained.
Delta South MLA Ian Paton in the legislature last week again raised the question when a business case will be made public, saying the government, despite promising to deliver a plan by late last year, is still keeping commuters waiting.
“How much money is being set aside for replacement costs? Most importantly, what is the province's preferred option? Is it a bridge, or is it a tunnel?” asked Paton.
Current Transportation Minster Rob Fleming answered, “There's lots there, and there are some things I just can't say. I think he'll respect that, when you have a business case, and you're working with local governments and First Nations governments on some of the key findings of a wide-ranging, technical business case, and also working with our counterparts in the federal government towards a successful contribution agreement, things like cost and preferred option….I'm just not going to go there today, because those are decisions that will be publicly announced at the appropriate time.”
Fleming, also noting the replacement project is in the budget as part of the transportation investment plan table, said consultations with First Nations and Local governments has been ongoing, but that those discussions are confidential.
He added they had also been working with Indigenous rights holders and local governments, alongside the panel of experts, on the business case development.
B.C. Minister of Finance Selina Robinson during a presentation on her government’s 2021 budget to the Delta Chamber of Commerce last month said the province is carefully analyzing the business case and consulting key stakeholders.
“It’s a process that happens for every project doing a business case, whether it’s a hospital or transit or a major highway or bridge. This is the process of government for any major infrastructure. It’s making sure that we make the right decision, that we understand what all the risks are and we’re fully cognizant of what the options are,” she said.
“I know that the Minister of Transportation [Rob Fleming] has been diligent pushing this forward and making sure the business case stays very much top of mind and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a decision shortly. It’s very much a priority for us.”
Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, told the Delta Chamber a few weeks prior that a draft funding request was submitted to the federal government, but much work remained to be done.
A task force of Metro Vancouver mayors had endorsed an eight-lane immersed tunnel to replace the George Massey Tunnel, but the provincial government, which has the final say, in early 2020 also presented a bridge as a second option.