VANCOUVER, B.C. – The B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) believes the proposed eight-lane tunnel which would replace the existing George Massey Tunnel (GMT) is not only a less safe and costlier option than a bridge, but would also be more harmful to the environment.
BCTA president and CEO Dave Earle voiced his opposition to the replacement tunnel, saying it would not address one of the most concerning issues with the current tunnel – congestion.
The Metro Vancouver Board gave the thumbs up to the proposed replacement tunnel Nov. 1, a recommendation that will now go the province for review and public consultation.
The province’s previous Liberal government had intended to replace the tunnel with a 10-lane bridge, but the plan was scrapped by the current NDP government, which took over in 2017.
The eight-lane tunnel would allot one lane in each direction for transit use, leaving six lanes for traffic, compared to the current GMT which has four lanes counter flowed in the mornings and afternoons to accommodate traffic flow.
“With one transit lane in each direction, that leaves only three lanes for vehicles, which is what we have now for traffic traveling at peak periods in the rush-hour direction,” said Earle. “It is a nightmare eight to 12 hours per weekday, severely congested eight to 10 hours on weekends. On weekdays, even traffic moving against rush hour is if often delayed 20 to 40 minutes.”
Earle also said the proposed tunnel would not be able to accommodate oversized loads or trucks carrying dangerous goods, rerouting drivers over the Alex Fraser Bridge, which could add an hour to their drive time.
Safety is another concern when it comes to traffic tunnels.
Earle said the current GMT experiences higher than average collision rates and poses unsafe conditions for emergency responders.
Citing a 2016 study, Earle said collisions within the GMT tend to be more severe than elsewhere on B.C.’s Hwy 99 corridor. He also said a 2015 report estimates that a bridge could reduce the frequency of collisions by around 35%.
“Building a new tunnel, even with improved geometrics, can’t completely resolve these safety concerns for either emergency responders or motorists,” said Earle. “For example, fires resulting from a crash will lower visibility and air quality, making conditions much more dangerous than on a bridge, even in a better designed tunnel.”
Cost and timing are other factors to consider when choosing between a tunnel or bridge.
Earle said “you can get more bang for your buck” with a bridge, as the recently halted 10-lane option was similar in estimated price as the now eight-lane tunnel proposal.
Shelley McGuinness, communications specialist for the BCTA, added that the cost of the tunnel is made that much more complicated with the requirement to create safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists.
“One a bridge, this is easy enough,” said McGuinness. “For a tunnel, not so much, and will increase the cost.”
Tunnels also take longer to complete, according to Earle, who said construction time is approximately 20-25% lengthier compared to bridges.
But with all the safety, cost, and truck restriction concerns the BCTA has, another issue comes to the forefront.
“The bigger issue is the environmental approval processes that must be extremely protracted,” said Earle. “This work was done for the bridge and did not involve an assessment of impact on riverbed disturbance, as the bridge did not touch the river.”
The proposed tunnel, however, would have an impact on the riverbed, and potentially a significant one.
“Our understanding is the tunnel proposal will require the removal of 1.5 million cubic meters of salt contaminated soil from the Fraser estuary, home of the largest salmon runs in B.C.,” said Earle. “This assessment will not be a small undertaking.”
The Mayors’ Task Force had endorsed a list of six options to replace the aging GMT in July, two of which were bridge options. Completion of the proposed immersed-tube tunnel is expected by 2027.
“From a goods movement perspective, the BCTA would prefer a replacement bridge because it’s safest for road users and emergency personnel,” said Earle, “it will improve efficiency and affordability by reducing transportation-related costs, and less congestion will also mean fewer emissions.”