B.C. government puts Massey Tunnel bridge on hold; independent review to take place

The provincial government is putting the construction of a bridge to replace the George Massey tunnel on hold and launching an independent technical review to explore best options going forward.

Transportation minister says a solution 'has to work for the entire region'

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

The provincial government is putting the construction of a 10-lane bridge to replace the George Massey tunnel on hold and launching an independent technical review to explore best options going forward. 

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said that while everyone agrees the current tunnel is a "roadblock for the efficient movement of people and goods in the region ... there is still a serious question about the solution for it."

In addition, the government has cancelled the current procurement process for building the bridge while the review is undertaken. 

"We want to look at the different options. There was a sense that not all options were thoroughly examined," said Trevena.

"We want one that will get the approval of not just the engineers, but people that live and work in the region."

Trevena said a lead investigator and terms of reference have not been established for the review yet but hoped a report would be ready by next spring.

She said the review would consider whether the previous Liberal government's plan for a 10-lane bridge would be the best option or if the solution is a smaller crossing, repairs to the existing tunnel, a twinned tunnel or a combination of those ideas.

A statement from Liberal Opposition members said they are concerned that the government is cancelling the project and putting the safety of commuters at risk in order to protect its political agenda.

"This is an unacceptable delay for those who travel through the tunnel every day," said Delta South MLA Ian Paton in a statement.

"This will cost taxpayers millions right now and likely billions when the NDP realize a new crossing, a bridge, is needed."

This 2015 rendering showed what the new bridge across the Fraser River could have looked like. (B.C. Government)

Disagreement on opposite sides of the Fraser

In 2013, then-premier Christy Clark announced a 10-lane bridge to replace the tunnel, built in 1959 and running beneath the Fraser River linking Richmond and Delta. Pre-construction began this year and the bridge is scheduled to be completed in 2022. 

The estimated cost of the bridge was $3.5 billion, but during the election campaign the NDP said leaked documents showed the potential cost could triple to nearly $12 billion.

Richmond city council had asked the government to stop work until other options are looked at, including twinning the tunnel. But on the other side of the Fraser River, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson had argued the project should continue.

"I don't think the former government had buy-in from the communities," said Trevena.

"You need to have the social licence and ensure the project is being delivered is absolutely right."

Following the announcement, Jackson was sanguine about the decision.

"I think moving forward positively is a better message than moving angrily," said Jackson, whose municipality had commissioned multiple reports arguing a bridge was necessary.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie has said a 10-lane bridge where the Massey Tunnel is now will lead to more congestion in heavy traffic areas like the Oak Street Bridge. Richmond city council has called for a twinned tunnel that would also include pathways for cyclists and pedestrians (CBC)

"We are convinced that the right decision was made, and we do actually need a 10-lane bridge ... we're pretty certain they will come up with the same conclusion." 

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie was happy the NDP put a hold on the bridge but emphasized that one way or another, construction on an alternative to the aging tunnel has to happen soon. 

"The situation only gets more dramatic and worse. We have to find a solution," he said. 

"Work the mayor's council, work the various cities. I think that will get us far further than the stubborn approach that has been so narrowly focused in the past."

With files from Jesse Johnston and The Canadian Press