Opinion: Little light at end of Massey tunnel

I suppose commuters should be pleased that wheels are slowly rolling when it comes to a replacement for the George Massey Tunnel, but I seriously question the track we’re now on.

When a task force of Metro Vancouver mayors recommended to the provincial government last week that an eight-lane tunnel replace the 60-year-old tube, they stressed the need to get going on the long talked about river crossing. They’re certainly right in terms of a new crossing being overdue, but if expediency is the goal, then a tunnel seems like a curious choice.

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Dropping tubes on the bed of the Fraser River will trigger a federal environmental assessment the province optimistically pegs at three years even though much of that work would have already been done if a bridge had been chosen instead. I don’t think anyone is surprised we’d be going an opposite direction after the NDP quashed the former Liberal government’s bridge project, so logic dictated it had to be a tunnel and it had to be less than 10 lanes.

The mayors’ recommendation fits NDP agenda to a tee but I’m dubious it’s going to be as useful for those who travel the Highway 99 corridor daily, and not just from a timing standpoint.

Right now, three lanes with the rush and one against it aren’t enough, so adding a fourth lane one way and a second the other – presuming the new tunnel also has counterflow -- should allow traffic to, at least initially, flow freely. That’s the good news. The bad news is that’s all you’re going to get. In other words, the plan is to spend billions on a crossing that’s supposed to last at least 50 years but one that would barely be able to handle today’s traffic volumes.

The recommended eight-lane tunnel would also include two transit lanes, but given buses get to cut in at the front of the line now, having their own lanes through a new tunnel would only be a marginal improvement. Unless those lanes are used for some form of rapid transit – and at this point all we’re being promised is buses – we won’t be much further ahead.

It seems to me that many of those leading this initiative are of the mindset that they’ll accept anything as long as it’s better than what we’ve got, but we shouldn’t be settling when we’re spending billions.

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