April 28, 2021

Bridging the Fraser Or Tunnelling? Back to the Massey Tunnel Replacement

It’s been a while since the Massey Tunnel replacement debate surfaced again and kudos to Sandor Gyarmati with the Delta Optimist for keeping up on this slowly evolving story.

During the pandemic there’s been changes in commuting patterns. A survey done by pollster Mario Canseco suggests that up to 73 percent of people expect to do some work from home even after the pandemic is over.

A recent survey undertaken by McKinsey in the United Kingdom reported in The Economist estimates that 20 to 25 percent  of workers in full time traditional  “at the office” positions will work three to five days a week at home. This will impact commuting traffic patterns, for transit and for single occupant vehicles.

With the existing tunnel there are short term congestion remediation measures that could be undertaken, like keeping trucks out of the tunnel during peak commuting times, advertising and implementing rapid bus service during those peak times, and offering incentives to people who commute by transit.

You will also notice how silent the Port of Vancouver is as they quietly continue their Federal process for expanding a new Deltaport terminal into the sensitive environment of the Salish Sea. The port does not ship and load 24 hours a day like its counterparts, which could also positively impact the congestion at the tunnel by scheduling goods movement around the clock.

The two potential alternatives for the new Massey Crossing have been sent to Ottawa as a “draft funding request” which was too late for the 2021 Federal Budget. The two alternatives are an eight lane tunnel replacement or an eight lane bridge. Costs are comparable, but the tunnel would have grades that can be easily be adapted for rapid transit if that ever becomes a future reality.

The bridge would require piers to be pile driven into Deas Slough and would overshadow the Marina Gardens residential development to the east side of the bridge.  On the upside the bridge requires a year less time for environmental review, which makes the bridge time frame six to seven years from approval to completion.

The immersed tunnel would require a lower profile in the river, and would be a shorter distance, but requires  three years for environmental review and a five year build out, making it an eight year process from approval to completion.

The tunnel option is in direct opposition to the strategy put forward by the previous Provincial Liberal government which more or less ignored Metro Vancouver and the Task Force of Metro Mayors’ preference for a tunnel, and embarked upon the bullish promotion of a ten lane bridge, with huge cloverleafs and massing.The Federal government will decide which of the two alternative slices of cake they prefer, but  since the Task Force of Metro Vancouver Mayors have already endorsed an eight-lane immersed tunnel, that’s the likely option which will be chosen by the Federal government.

The next set of questions and concerns will be on environmental impacts, costs and timing, and when this ongoing crossing replacement will finally get the funding to go full steam ahead.

We have to wait for the 2022 Federal Budget for funding and hopefully also be in the Aftertimes of the pandemic to finally implement the new crossing.



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  1. Thank you for the very informative update on the George Massey Crossing project.

    The tunnel option might most accurately be called an expansion. It came to be recognized that the existing four-lane tube (legacy tube) would be retained, at least with value for utilities, and the new eight lanes would be within the George Massey Crossing in the Highway 99 corridor. I believe there are further practical uses for the legacy tube, but that’s another topic.

  2. “The Federal government will decide which of the two alternative slices of cake they prefer”

    Probably true that the climate nihilists in Trudeau’s cabinet will see it this way. But on the other hand, we have a minority government and a rapidly evolving public consciousness regarding the climate emergency. Maybe they will tell Hogan to propose something that is compatible with Canada’s climate commitments and the BC government’s own sectoral targets? See https://ricochet.media/en/3616/bidens-earth-day-summit-shows-canada-is-stuck-in-the-slow-lane-on-climate

  3. Has there been any consideration of a regional rail line serving the replacement crossing, or at least dedicated bus lanes? (Please forgive the ignorant comment – I’m new to both Metro Vancouver and Canada.)

    Editor’s Comment: Welcome to the region! Two lanes of bridge/tunnel are dedicated to transit in both options. Regional rail service goes east as per the Metro Vancouver growth strategy. http://www.metrovancouver.org/metro2050

  4. The NDP’s whole slow scramble to appear to act on this non-issue is “good politics, bad policy”, to paraphrase Gordon Price.

  5. I’m unconvinced a new crossing is necessary but then again I’m not running for public office in Delta. Regardless of one’s opinion on its supposed necessity, the NDP needs to appear to be doing something here. The pandemic will only buy them a little more time before the manufacturered outrage at this “problem” starts up again. The least bad political choice they’ve given themselves is a 6-lane tunnel at the same cost as the Liberals’ original $5b bridge.

  6. Of course the other great shift in commuting, as referenced in Bloomberg today is the renaissance of the Car:

    “It’s starting to feel as commonplace as handwashing: To protect against COVID, people across the globe are skipping trains and buses. Instead, they’re part of the great car comeback that’s sending vehicle sales soaring and fueling a demand surge for oil and metals…”

  7. Let us be clear, the entire Massey Tunnel replacement saga has been about deepening the Fraser River to allow Cape Max tankers, colliers up the Fraser River to Surrey docks, as the tunnel acted as an underwater dyke.


    To load American Braken Oil and Montana Coal because there is no such terminals left in the American Pacific North West. it would give the BNSF direct access to a international port without paying “wheelage” using the BC Railway line to the Roberts Bank super port.

    As the cost to further dredge and maintain the Fraser to a deeper depth was going to be paid solely by the port authority and not the taxpayer, the plan folded and the need to replace the Massey tunnel diminished, except that local politicians jumped on the bandwagon and made the replacement a politcal issue. When a mega project becomes politicized, then facts are drowned out in a flood of fake news and alternative facts.

    A massive multi lane bridge or tunnel would just move gridlock into Richmond because there would be no corresponding crossing of the the North Arm and the eight lanes provided by the Laing, Oak, Knight and Queensborugh bridges, at capacity now, would be saturated by increased vehicular traffic.

    ** Editor’s Note: Deleted as per editorial policy. Please review policy

    Buses don’t work and never have in reducing congestion, so the taxpayer and a commuter is left with a Hobson’s Choice of options, each one as unpalatable as the others.

    It is the extremely politicized bad planning in the region that has caused transportation problems and it continues today.

    The present Massey tunnel will be around for a good time yet.

    1. The other “benefit” of the 10 lane bridge was to allow LNG tankers to get to the Fortis facility at Tilbury. It’s pretty convenient to justify building a regional transportation project, that will ultimately enable tankers to load at an existing/new LNG terminal – all this at public expense. This saves Fortis from building a facility on land west of the existing tunnel they don’t own (yet).

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