Eight-lane tunnel to replace existing George Massey Tunnel by 2030: B.C. transportation ministry
A plan for the long-promised replacement for the 62-year-old George Massey Tunnel connecting Richmond and Delta on Highway 99 has now been revealed by the province: an eight-lane, immersed tube tunnel.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement in Richmond on Wednesday morning. The estimated cost of the project is $4.15 billion, with completion set for 2030 following five years of construction. The province is hoping for a federal funding contribution, but so far nothing has been confirmed.
"This is an important day for the communities of Richmond and Delta," Fleming said outside Richmond City Hall, flanked by the mayors of Richmond and Delta and the chiefs of the Tsawwassen First Nation and Musqueam Indian Band.
"It's a big day for everyone in Metro Vancouver who uses Highway 99 through the George Massey tunnel."
Tsawwassen First Nation chief Ken Baird said his community welcomes the decision, and added the province has committed to addressing their concerns regarding environmental impacts on the Fraser River.
"Replacing the aging tunnel to accommodate current and future growth in our corner of the Lower Mainland is critical to building a sustainable and vibrant future," he said. "We look forward to continuing our work with the province ... to ensure this project is built in the very best way possible."
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said getting to this point has been "a long journey."
"If you ask a person on the street who is familiar with Highway 99: what do you want? A bridge or a tunnel? If you ask them that, usually the answer you get is: ‘We just want something, now,’" Brodie said. "We feel that this will finally move this project forward with the appropriate solution."
In December 2020, the province said it received a business case outlining two options for a replacement crossing: an eight-lane bridge or an eight-lane tunnel. At the time, the Ministry of Transportation said it had consulted with the regional mayors' task force, Indigenous groups, TransLink and local municipalities to develop and consider options for the replacement.
During the 2013 election campaign, the BC Liberals announced they would replace the aging tunnel with a 10-lane bridge, a project they said would have been completed next year. Their plan was shelved after the New Democratic Party formed government in 2017.
On Wednesday, the province said two of the eight lanes in the new, toll-free tunnel would be dedicated to bus rapid transit, and the crossing will also feature separated paths for cyclists and pedestrians. The tunnel will be built just upstream of the existing George Massey Tunnel.
Greater Vancouver Board of Trade President and CEO Bridgitte Anderson said the group is "delighted" to hear the process is moving ahead, calling a replacement for the existing tunnel an urgent need.
"I can't underscore how crucial a bottleneck this has been for the movement of people and goods, but also understanding that there's still a lot of steps that need to happen before this becomes an actual construction project," she said, adding that the board had historically supported the bridge option.
"It is going to be almost another decade until this project is completed and there are some essential steps that have to happen now, including an environmental assessment to understand the impact on the region and salmon ... as well as really essential consultation with First Nations partners."
Anderson also wondered about the capacity of the new tunnel, and how it will meet increased demand due to population growth.
"The movement of goods will continue to grow as well," she said. "This project must be able to be future-proof, if you will."
Fleming said future traffic modelling was taken into account and there will be details in the business case, which is supposed to be made public at some point.
Meanwhile, the Surrey Board of Trade's CEO Anita Huberman expressed disappointment in the tunnel announcement.
"The eight-lane tunnel, which is really only an additional two lanes from what currently is in place, does not meet Surrey's needs to move people and move goods," she said in a news release.
"The bridge was expected to have been almost ready by now. It is unfortunate that we are back at square one."
The opposition also took aim at the government's tunnel plan. BC Liberal transportation critic Michael Lee said the project "will not provide relief to commuters for at least another 10 years.”
"All we've seen from Horgan and his government are more delays to this project, and today's plan is no different," Lee said in a news release. "Construction on the new tunnel will not begin for five years, leaving people trying to get to work, a doctor's appointment or their kid's practice to pay the price."
According to the transportation ministry, a cost comparison between the tunnel and bridge options found the estimate for a bridge would be slightly more expensive, at $4.22 billion. The government said the tunnel option "limits any new visual, noise, shading, and lighting impacts" and "has the fewest impacts to agricultural land and will not introduce new navigational restrictions to the Fraser River.”
In 2019, when a Metro Vancouver task force voted to endorse the eight-lane tunnel, a technical evaluation noted it would have the greatest environmental impact during construction, as excavation would be required on both sides of the river.
As for the existing four-lane tunnel, the province said a technical analysis found removal would be required for either a bridge or tunnel crossing, and added it does not meet current seismic standards.
Meanwhile, work will be beginning this fall on transit and cycling infrastructure along the highway, and to replace the Steveston interchange; work the province said will be completed by 2025.
The 629-metre-long George Massey Tunnel sees an estimated 80,000 vehicle trips a day.