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Massey Tunnel replacement still hot-button topic

By Don Fennell and Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 10:27 PDT, Wed October 14, 2020

Connecting Richmond with Delta and points further south of the Fraser River, the George Massey Tunnel plays an important role in the movement of people and goods throughout the Lower Mainland.

But since being opened to traffic in 1959 as the Deas Island Tunnel, the region has grown nearly four-fold, from 614,000 to 2.5 million residents and calls for its replacement have been growing since the mid 2000s when the idea of expanding the tunnel’s capacity from four to six lanes was first floated.

Since then, replacing the tunnel with a bridge has also been considered, particularly by the last BC Liberal government under then-Premier Christy Clark. Following the 2017 election, the BC NDP scrapped the existing bridge proposal and initiated a consultation process with local mayors and First Nations leaders. 

That consultation process yielded overwhelming support for a tunnel option, including from Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie, who told the Richmond Sentinel in March that “from an operational point of view the tunnel option would give us all the advantages we are looking for, and would move us well into the future.”

The Liberals under leader Andrew Wilkinson remain committed to a bridge replacement. Wilkinson pledged last week that, if his party forms government following the Oct. 24 election, they will build “an eight- to 10-lane flexible bridge with a revised interchange at Steveston Highway.”

The bridge will be part of the BC Liberals’ $8 billion Rebuild BC plan, and Wilkinson said it can be restarted without any further environmental assessment, since it fits into the previous consultation and assessment terms. He said the proposed bridge would have no toll.

To gauge where local candidates in the Oct. 24 provincial election stand on the issue, the Richmond Sentinel asked what aspects they consider necessary in the replacement, and how they will ensure that construction begins immediately.

“We have the plan, we have the consultation reports, we have the need,” says Jas Johal, Richmond-Queensborough candidate for the BC Liberals. 

Richmond South Centre candidate Alexa Loo, also of the BC Liberals, agrees. 

“People are planning their life around this tunnel,” she says. “We’ve been mired in action and congestion, and it’s really time to get moving here.”

Matt Pitcairn, the BC Liberal candidate for Richmond-Steveston, says the tunnel is currently the worst traffic bottleneck in the province. He says he’d like to see dedicated transit lanes on a bridge for a reliable public transportation option.

Conversely, the BC NDP remain committed to a tunnel option, saying plans are still underway and the project’s final approval will be done by the end of the year. NDP candidate for Richmond South Centre Henry Yao says changing back to a bridge plan at this point would risk further delays. Yao is also concerned that the Liberals neglected to consult the City of Richmond when making their new plan.

Richmond-Steveston NDP candidate Kelly Greene says the bridge plan doesn’t account for the environmental needs of the Fraser River, and that her party’s proposed tunnel is nearing the completion of its planning stage.

“The project business case is due back this fall and I’m excited to see the completion of the Massey crossing in a way that respects local priorities, includes transit plans, and isn’t paid through tolls on Richmond commuters,” says Greene.

BC Conservative candidate Kay Hale (Richmond-Queensborough and BC Green Party candidate Vernon Wang (Richmond North Centre) are also in support of the existing tunnel being doubled in size. And independent candidate Vince Li (Richmond-Steveston), who used to work in Delta and commuted through the tunnel daily, says whichever option will be started more quickly is where his support would lie.

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