British Columbia

Massey Tunnel replacement plans: the election debate that keeps on giving

Candidates in the three major parties revisit the bridge versus tunnel debate heading into the provincial election.

Candidates from Richmond-Queensborough at the north end of the aging crossing talk bridge vs. tunnel

Traffic passing through the George Massey Tunnel, an infamous bottleneck during rush hour in Metro Vancouver between Richmond and Delta. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It's been a B.C. election issue before, and it's back in the spotlight again.

The George Massey Tunnel, that aging piece of infrastructure that allows cars to drive under the Fraser River between Richmond and Delta, requires replacing and, for years, the B.C. Liberal Party and the B.C. NDP have disagreed on how best to do so.

When the Liberals led the province, they planned to build a 10-lane bridge, which was scrapped by the NDP party in 2017, who then ordered an independent review and asked local mayors to come up with a new plan.

They came up with the plan for an eight-lane immersed-tube tunnel — with two lanes dedicated to transit — and the government was expected to approve the business case later this fall. 

As British Columbians prepare to go to the polls on Oct. 24, CBC's The Early Edition brought the NDP, Liberal and B.C. Green Party candidate from the Richmond-Queensborough riding together to debate their plans for the contentious crossing at the south edge of the riding.

"Every single thing on their platform is an old idea that they're trying to regurgitate," B.C. NDP candidate Aman Singh said about the B.C. Liberal campaign promise to bring back their 10-lane bridge plan.

An artist's rendering of the proposed bridge to replace the George Massey tunnel, a plan backed by the B.C. Liberal Party. (Province of B.C.)

Singh said environmental and farming communities were never on board with the idea of a large bridge and reverting to the plan will result in further project delays — which the local business community has already said could jeopardize jobs.

"Frankly, this project needed to be done yesterday,"  Shaena Furlong, co-chair of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce told CBC Thursday. "We are not bridge or bust ... I think the people and businesses in Richmond are just ready to see some solutions."

Furlong said a replacement is critical for the efficient movement of goods between seaports and the Vancouver International Airport. She also raised the concern that 800 jobs could leave Richmond after London Drugs said it was considering moving its headquarters because of project delays.

B.C. Liberal candidate, Jas Johal, said his party was acting on the advice of public servants who said a 10-lane bridge is needed for the future.

"This isn't just a Richmond bridge or Delta bridge, it's for the entire region," said Johal. "And when we move goods and services to Asia, it's a gateway to Asia."

He said a bridge is less expensive to build to seismic standards than an immersed tunnel and will also have less impact on salmon in the Fraser River.

Any accidents in the tunnel can snarl traffic for hours. (Shane MacKichan)
The Tsawassen First Nation has voiced its opposition to the tunnel option because of concerns about the local salmon population.

Earl Einarson, a member of the Ktunaxa Nation is running for the B.C. Green Party in Richmond-Queensborough and shares Johal's concerns about the salmon.

But Einarson also took issue with the impact he says a bridge would have on the Agricultural Land Reserve because of the amount of land needed on either side.

This land is important to Richmond, it's vital to Richmond. And people don't talk about the huge cloverleafs, which are going to come out of this bridge on both sides," said Einarson.

While Einarson did not say what his party would do instead of the B.C. Liberals or the B.C. NDP, he did say what the Green Party would not do.

"We are firmly set against this whole concept of using this as a political pawn," said Einarson.

Tap here to listen to the complete debate on CBC's The Early Edition.

With files from The Early Edition, Justin McElroy, Bridgette Watson

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