August 23, 2021

Good News Vancouver’s Massey Crossing: It’s A Tunnel! Bad News: Not Until 2030


The long awaited alignment news is out about the form of the new Massey Crossing on the Fraser River, piecing together Richmond and Delta, and providing a vital link for shipping at Deltaport and for transportation  south to the American border.

The option chosen and announced is an eight lane immersive tunnel, with two immersed tubes for vehicular travel and a third for bicycles and walkers. You can read through the Province’s announcement here.

There’s a long history to the Massey Crossing. The first tunnel at this location was opened in May 1959, and was the only road tunnel below sea level in Canada, and also the lowest road surface in Canada. The original tunnel was built using immersive tube technology and has been in use for sixty years.

The previous Liberal provincial government advocated for  a ten lane bridge similar to that produced for the Port Mann Bridge, complete with Los Angeles style cloverleafs exiting into Richmond.

Of course the problem with producing a ten lane bridge that throats down to four or five lanes on either side of the bridge is congestion. It’s just fine to build a bridge, but you need the rest of the connecting infrastructure to be upgraded to take that capacity as well.  The previous Liberal government may have seen this proposed bridge behemoth as helpful to hold the Liberal ridings that would be served on either side of the bridge.

Sadly there were awkward gaps in the provincial Liberals’ approach to their hoped for bridge, including not consulting with the Musqueam First Nation who  define this area of the Fraser River as being the heart of Musqueam territory.  The Massey Crossing area is surrounded by indigenous heritage sites and culturally important places, including fishing areas.

The provincial Liberals also bluntly ignored the wishes of the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council who also had agreed upon a tunnel option. The provincial Liberals at the time said that any tunnel would be a problem because of ships travelling over it. Surprisingly they are mute on that point now, although Panamax capacity ships still require more than a 12 meter depth for draft.

The Liberal documents on the crossing at the time appeared to leapfrog potential tunnel solutions and landed squarely on a ten lane multi-billion dollar bridge as the right thing to do. It would of course be visible to all, and play directly in the interests of Deltaport, which unlike every other major port in North America does not schedule truck traffic on a 24 hour clock to minimize congestion and traffic conflict.

Under the current Provincial NDP government consultation for either an eight lane bridge or an eight lane immersive tunnel went ahead  with the Metro Vancouver Mayors Council and other stakeholders. These options provide three lanes of travel in both directions, as well as transit lanes and a bicycle lane.

Why not ten lanes full tilt for whoever wishes to travel by vehicle?

Roads create traffic, and the areas that this tunnel will  serve are not only on a flood plain, but are ecologically sensitive and are not an area where the regional planning  by Metro Vancouver sees a mass of population being clustered. That’s another reason why  dedicated bus lanes instead of rapid transit is not being proposed at this time.  Adding in rail or rapid transit to a proposed bridge in the future would be impossible with the slopes; that can be done in the future with the  gentler angle of the immersive tunnel.

The rationale for approving this immersive tunnel proposal included being similar to the existing situation, noting that a bridge would “introduce new visual, noise and lighting impacts” for the subdivision situated at Marina Garden estates.  There is less of a footprint on farmland and no worry about ships hitting bridge infrastructure with the tunnel option.

The bridge would have also required  piers to be pile driven into Deas Slough on sensitive wetlands. The upside of the bridge was that the environmental review would require one year less than that for the immersive tunnel.

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

This time frame has made the Provincial Liberals rub their hands with glee, fingerpointing at the lack of expediency.

However this does give time to be smarter about the use of the existing Massey Tunnel, and get serious about the Port doing proper scheduling of truck traffic.

It also invites a fulsome discussion of who in British Columbia is going to pay the Province’s share of the  estimated 4.15 billion dollars for this project.

With the push for electric vehicles, the dedicated transit  tax on gasoline and clear diesel fuel (which is 18.5 cents a litre) will not be there to assist governmental coffers. It  needs to be replaced by some other method to pay for transit and improvements.  Remember too that as part of the  NDP’s political platform bridge tolls were eliminated on the newly built Port Mann Bridge.  

Is it time for a user pay system by road zones  to access new infrastructure in the Metro Vancouver region?

How will we pay for this new infrastructure, transit improvements and roads in the future?



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  1. I don’t see any substantial difference between the bridge or tunnel options, save aesthetic. They both just funnel more cars and promote sprawl. The rest is noise. But politically, this was the NDP’s only play. Sad.

  2. good news,

    the NDP has replaced the proposed user paid bridge by BC liberal for a tax funded tunnel, whit the BC Green blessing

    bad news,

    we have to wait up to 2030

  3. With the BC government announcement of a new Massey Tunnel, many questions arise about Transportation Priorities and Funding in the Lower Mainland.

    Without a clear long range transportation plan, the Federal government seems to set the tone where priorities should be. Transportation priorities should be set by local civic and provincial governments not Federal.

    Federal government seems to pick and choose what transportation projects it will help cost share up to 40% . Funding is via the Federal government $180 B Infrastructure Fund. The civic and provincial governments do not have such massive funding available.

    With climate emergencies we know that most of our Transportation priorities should be public and active transportation. However in the Lower Mainland most of the funding since WWII goes to HIGHWAYS ( including Highways 1, 17 and crossings like the Massey and Pattullo )

    It is time for us to demand at least a 50/50 split on ( operating and capital ) spending on Highways vs public and active transportation.

  4. Just a note that the 10 lanes of the bridge were to provide a slow truck lane up the steep slopes of the bridge. With the shallower slopes of the tunnel, you won’t have slow trucks clogging up a lanes, so 8 should be fine.

    PS – I think the term is “immersed” (being sunk into the river) rather than “immersive”, unless the tunnel is some form of experiential aspect.

  5. I’m going to say the same thing I said in response to the Sun’s article: The provincial government is banking on federal support for another urban highway expansion boondoggle that undermines Canada’s climate commitments. The answer must be a clear no. The 2016 Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change calls for shifting funds from highway expansion to public transit. The federal Liberal, NDP and Green parties supported the Framework, and must now show this was more than cynical spin.

    BC is on fire. The climate emergency is here and now. Urban highway expansion increases climate pollution and makes traffic worse. This four-billion-dollar boondoggle is a good test to see if federal candidates are serious about climate action, or if they are happy to help burn BC to the ground.

  6. Thankyou for this sensible
    pros and cons account. Maybe , just maybe they can find a way to save the soon-to-be-heritage tunnel- which took two years to build! Cycling is a no-go in the old tunnel, and unless a bike lane is walled off in new one, the exhaust fumes would not appeal to this rider. But make the old one a bike and electric only route and now we’re talking a pleasant ride to access the pastoral backroads and parks of Delta. In fact put a coffee shop and a few fish viewing windows in the ceiling. After all it’s the same draft as the new one, so its not in the way of river ports. If folks are in a hurry to expand the route over the next nine years, what about a floating pontoon bridge? Which could be kept as well, as a wildlife corridor for coyotes, rabbits and a generally rewilded alluvial plane. Just sayin’

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