British Columbia

Construction to begin this year on $4B project including Massey Tunnel, Steveston interchange

The B.C. government says it's chosen a main contractor for part of the major $4.15-billion project to replace the 62-year-old George Massey Tunnel and build an interchange.

2 of new tunnel's 8 lanes will be for public transit buses; separate paths included for cyclists, pedestrians

The George Massey Tunnel during rush hour in Richmond, B.C. in April 2019. The province says construction to improve traffic between Delta and Richmond remains on track to start this year, part of a project that includes replacing the tunnel. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Construction to improve traffic between Delta and Richmond remains on track to start this year, the B.C. government said Friday — part of a major project that includes replacing the 62-year-old George Massey Tunnel.

At a press conference, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming said his government selected a "preferred proponent" last week to design and build the Steveston interchange, a key part of improvements to Highway 99.

"When we have the new tunnel in place, we know that travel for drivers and people using public transit will be better and more reliable and quicker," Fleming told reporters near the construction site in Richmond on Friday.

"More capacity through the tunnel, combined with our Highway 99 improvements, will allow vehicles to move faster and save significant travel time."

The project is budgeted to cost at least $4.15 billion.

Last month, the province announced it had signed nine contracts for "technical and engineering" expertise towards the project.

Two of the new tunnel's eight lanes will be dedicated to public transit buses, and there will be separate pathways for cyclists and pedestrians.

Delta Mayor George Harvie said he is looking forward to dedicated transit lanes that are planned with the bridge, in addition to cyclist and pedestrian paths.

"Delta has always been under-served with transit," Harvie said. "It's very difficult for us to have more transit systems [and] more buses, but we need them.

"Deltans want to get out of their cars, and this project is going to make that happen."

But Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said the project's environmental assessment could take a significant amount of time.

"It would be inconceivable to have this new facility and not allow for the pedestrians and the cyclist who want to use the alternative forms of transportation," Brodie said.

The 62-year-old Massey Tunnel, pictured here. Two of the new tunnel's eight lanes will be dedicated to public transit buses, and there will also be pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

Most rush hours in the Lower Mainland see heavy congestion in the tunnel.

The province earlier said it chose to replace the existing 62-year-old Massey Tunnel instead of building an eight-lane bridge, because the plan was endorsed by the regional district and minimized impacts on the surrounding area, including the river.

The plan has been politically controversial for years in the province. The former B.C. Liberal government promised to build a 10-lane bridge during their time in office, but the NDP put that plan on hold after taking office in 2017.

"We were never happy with this 10-lane bridge option that was advocated for so long," Fleming said on Friday.

In an earlier statement, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Delta-South, Ian Paton, said the proposed tunnel replacement will not offer any "real time savings" for motorists, but cost much more than the original bridge plan.

"Commuters deserve better than the decade of delays they've gotten from the NDP," Paton said last August. "We're facing years of construction on a project that will provide little long-term relief."

The new tunnel is expected to open to traffic in 2030, the NDP government said.

With files from Janella Hamilton and David P. Ball