Protesters crash groundbreaking for bridge to replace Massey Tunnel

A 'celebration' planned to mark the start of construction for the $3.5-billion bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel was disrupted by protesters who oppose the project.

'Celebration' was planned to mark start of construction of bridge to replace George Massey Tunnel

Protesters posing as B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone, right, and Port Metro Vancouver President Robin Silvester forced a planned 'celebration' of the new bridge construction indoors. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

A pre-election photo op to "celebrate" the start of construction on the $3.5-billion bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel did not go as planned for B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone on Wednesday.

The event, featuring local politicians and other supporters of the megaproject, was supposed to be held outside, with a backhoe ready to break ground.

However, Stone was delayed — by traffic in the Massey Tunnel, he said — and protesters with placards and megaphones took the stage instead, pretending to be Stone handing over a "blank cheque" to Port Metro Vancouver.

"It's illogical. It's basically a monument to the car," said Richmond city councillor Carol Day, who was among the protesters.

"It's a major taxpayer waste of money."

Protesters including Richmond city councillor Carol Day, left, hold signs in advance of the planned 'celebration' to start construction on the George Massey Tunnel replacement project. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

'Best interests' of B.C. says Stone

The event, which included Stone, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson and others, moved quickly inside a nearby fire hall.

Stone told reporters there is widespread public support for the new 10-lane bridge to replace the aging tunnel connecting Richmond to Delta.

"We respect [the protesters'] rights to make those views known," said Stone.

"That said, we also have an obligation to do what we believe is in the best interests of British Columbians," calling the bridge a "critical piece of infrastructure."

The minister says it has taken four years of consultation with First Nations, municipal and regional governments and a tremendous amount of technical work to get to the point where construction can now begin.

Stone said protesters are entitled to present their opinion during the May 9 election.

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone spoke to reporters after the planned 'celebration' for the start of construction on the $3.5-billion bridge was moved inside. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

Major contracts not yet awarded

Opposition to the bridge goes beyond the dozens of protesters gathered Wednesday morning.

Metro Vancouver mayors spoke out collectively against the project last summer, saying the bridge was "car-oriented" and diverting money from public transit and other transportation priorities.

Today's event was billed as the start of construction, though major contracts have not yet been awarded, according to a government release.

Two contracts worth $17.3-million or less than one per cent of the overall project have been awarded to two Surrey companies to prepare the site for work.

The province expects the major construction contract to be awarded in the summer.

An artist's rendering of the proposed bridge to replace the George Massey tunnel. (CBC)

With files from The Canadian Press