A groundbreaking ceremony for the George Massey Tunnel replacement bridge was forced indoors Wednesday by a group of protesters holding their own mock event. 

Dozens of people opposed to the project gathered peacefully outside Delta Fire Hall No. 4, where a podium was set up for B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone to speak.

Stone was late to the ceremony, however, and a man wearing a mask of the minister's face co-opted the space, waving an oversized blank cheque made out to "Port Metro Van."

"What is a puppet show without puppets?" he called out to the crowd while handing the cheque to a woman dressed to resemble Port of Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester.

Critics have blasted the bridge as a waste of tax dollars and accused the government of trying to clear the way for more liquefied natural gas tanker traffic – though the port insists replacing the tunnel with a bridge won't significantly change the size of ships that can use the channel.

The province's groundbreaking event was ultimately driven inside, where Stone addressed the dissenters.

"We absolutely respect the views, the opinions of folks who have arrived here today who do not support this project and we respect their right to make those views known," he said.

"We also have an obligation to do what we believe is in the best interests of British Columbians."

The government has touted the 10-lane, $3.5-billion toll bridge as a necessary means of reducing congestion that will save many daily commuters up to five hours of driving a week.

"That's four to five hours of time with their loved ones, with their families, maybe having breakfast with their kids," Stone said.

The 60-year-old Massey Tunnel is also a potential earthquake risk, according to the government, whereas the new crossing will be built to current seismic standards.

Still, there has been plenty of opposition to the project, including from the Metro Vancouver Board, which released an impact assessment report on the bridge outlining a number of environmental concerns and questioning how effective it will be in reducing traffic.

The only mayor to appear at Wednesday's event was Delta’s Louis Jackson.

"The Massey Bridge project has not been a priority for mayors in the region – it's not in our 10-year plan," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said. "Obviously there are concerns about billions of dollars going to a project that we did not put in our list of priorities."

The board has argued B.C. simply hasn’t demonstrated the need to replace the four-lane tunnel with a 10-lane bridge.

Among the potential environmental issues listed in its report are ecological disruptions to salmon and bird habitats in the Fraser River estuary and to Deas Island Regional Park.

The B.C. government estimates the toll bridge, which will also feature a multi-use pathway for pedestrians and cyclists, will open in 2022.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim