Transportation Minister Claire Trevena has said that a 10-lane bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel is the “wrong project” for communities, and Delta is no longer fighting to change her mind.
“I’m agnostic to the solution. I just want to get on implementing something,” Delta mayor George Harvie told the Reporter following Monday’s release of the long-awaited independent technical review of the George Massey Tunnel replacement.
Harvie said that he has spoken with Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, White Rock mayor Darryl Walker and Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie, as well as the Tsawwassen and Musqueam First Nations and plans to meet with them all to discuss the best option for the tunnel’s replacement.
Harvie said the meeting is planned for the end of January.
“What I’m looking at right now is getting to work … and coming up with a unified approach to solving this congestion problem,” Harvie said.
“It’s not our asset, it’s the province’s, but we’ve got to come up with a solution.”
The technical review was commissioned after the government halted construction on the 10-lane replacement bridge in September 2017. The report outlined three potential options for the Fraser River crossing — a six-lane bridge, an eight-lane bridge and a tunnel — but did not recommend one over the others.
“A 10-lane bridge was the wrong project for the region and floored from the start,” Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said at a press conference Monday. “It left out a number of key considerations, like community alignment, livability and cost.
“We heard that loud and clear from Metro Vancouver mayors.”
The minister said consultation with local communities is needed in order to find the right solution for the crossing. Delta South MLA Ian Paton, who has been a long-time champion of the 10-lane bridge during his time on Delta council and with the BC Liberal party, disagrees.
“After months of waiting, people in the Lower Mainland want results, not more study,” Paton said in a BC Liberal Caucus press release. “This is a slap in the face to those who spend hours every week idling in this huge traffic jam. It has been studied to death, the reports all say the same thing: a replacement is needed and needed now.”
“People who are trying to get to work, truckers moving goods, parents late for their kid’s soccer practice and seniors off to appointments don’t have more time to give,” added Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal in the BC Liberal Caucus press release. “It’s pure politics — the NDP threw away a $100 million investment on a 10-lane bridge, and now 18 months later they tell British Columbians how they’re going to fix the problem.”
Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon (NDP), however, said it’s important to note the 10-lane bridge proposal was “built on a $10-a-day toll” that would have a a significant impact on traffic flow over the Alex Fraser Bridge.
“The consultant said that 70,000 additional trips were going to happen over the Alex Fraser because of a tolled 10-lane bridge. That would mean essentially gridlock on the Alex Fraser Bridge,” Kahlon told the Reporter. “That was not something [the previous government] considered when they moved ahead on the 10-lane bridge.”
The need for improvements to the current tunnel is not disputed by the current government: during the press conference, Trevena said the provincial government will be making lighting and safety upgrades to the tunnel while consultation is underway.
“These improvements will help people keep moving safely while we work with the communities while selecting the best option for a new crossing,” Trevena said.
Trevena said she expected to have a business plan for the replacement crossing by 2020.
For Harvie, getting the six communities along Highway 99 together was an important step in making sure the replacement gets done as quickly as possible.
“I do not want the excuse of the Mayors’ Council not coming up with a response to the province used as delaying this project,” Harvie said. “That’s why myself, as mayor, wanted everything possible to move this process along.”
Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie agreed, saying this kind of discussion among mayors was “totally lacking before.”
“We considered it at council before, and we considered it at Metro Vancouver, but we never had that kind of input or discussion in the past,” he said. “So I think it’s important that we have good, healthy debate and discussion.”
Brodie and former Delta mayor Lois Jackson had long been on opposite sides of the tunnel replacement debate. Brodie wanted to twin the tunnel, while Jackson had been a vociferous supporter of the 10-lane bridge.
Although it’s still early in the restarted process, Brodie said it was likely Richmond council would still be in support of a tunnel option rather than a bridge.
“Lois Jackson and I could agree to disagree, and that’s what you have to do in this position,” Brodie said. “You have to have healthy dialogue and debate, stressing the points you think are important.
“Although it’s still early in the process, I have no doubt I can work effectively with Mayor Harvie,” he continued. “That’s not to say we arrive at the same result or same conclusion, but with talk and discussion and compromise and analysis, I’m hopeful we can come up with something that will be very reasonable.”
Harvie said he is “agnostic” about the type of replacement that is put in, so long as it doesn’t impact Delta’s farmland, is safe for first responders and has current and future capacity for rapid transit.
This is a change from the approach taken by Jackson, who is currently a sitting Delta councillor. Jackson had been the lone Metro Vancouver mayor in support of the 10-lane replacement bridge, and was quite vocal in her opposition to the NDP government’s cancellation of the project.
“We have a new mayor and a new council,” Harvie said about the difference in Delta’s approach this time around. “I stated in my election platform, I said my number one priority was to get a get a solution to this congestion.”
During the election, Harvie had said he would be a strong advocate for a new bridge, saying in September that “a bridge is also our best choice in protecting Delta’s Agricultural Land Reserve and will dramatically improve emergency response times.”
Now, Harvie is putting less emphasis on the need for a bridge, although the technical review has certainly not left bridge options off the table.
“This is their asset,” Harvie said about the provincially-owned crossing. “We have to move this along as fast as we can. [Minister Trevena’s] put the challenge out to us and we’re going to meet that head-on.”