I am far from a traffic engineer, transportation planner or anything of the sort, but humour me while I make my pitch to address the traffic headache that is the George Massey Tunnel these days.
I was driving through Seattle last month, and given it was a Saturday, I decided to stay on I-5 through downtown rather than divert to my usual route, the less congested 405 freeway through the eastern suburbs. Since I was carrying on to Portland, I did, however, make use of I-5's express lanes as I had no need to exit in the downtown core.
As I made my way through Tacoma and then Olympia, I began thinking about the express lanes and how they could be applicable to efforts (if you can call them that) to improve the gridlock that often engulfs the tunnel.
A second tube has long been considered a non-starter, while the big knock on a bridge over the Fraser River where Highway 99 crosses it, beyond the prohibitive price tag, is the amount of lowlying land it would swallow up with all of its on-and off-ramps. What if, however, that bridge used the same principle as the express lanes? In other words, what if it was an express bridge that didn't offer access or egress and acted as a complement to the existing tunnel?
Given most traffic on Highway 99 carries on beyond the exits on either side of the tunnel (particularly once the South Fraser Perimeter Road opens), an express bridge would allow these drivers to cruise above any congestion.
And if you do need to exit, then you've still got the trusty old tube, which shouldn't be all that congested thanks to reduced volume.
This low-tech bridge would come with a lower cost (albeit still a hefty one) and would necessitate highway widening, but most importantly it wouldn't require the footprint of a traditional bridge. Given viable locations for another crossing of the lower Fraser are virtually non-existent, I think it's incumbent to make the best use of existing corridors.
I know, improved transit is the way to go in the 21st century, but let's pretend for a moment drivers won't get out of their vehicles until gas hits 10 bucks a litre and assume we're going to need more asphalt to move people, and goods, around.
I'm sure there are many drawbacks to my express bridge idea that I'm too ignorant to have even considered, but I believe I'm on firmer ground when I say some form of planning needs to get underway now so the tunnel situation doesn't continue to go unaddressed for decades.