October 17, 2019
Dear Metro Vancouver Board of Directors,
Re: GEORGE MASSEY CROSSING – EIGHT-LANE, IMMERSED-TUNNEL CONFIGURATION OPTION
The Richmond Chamber of Commerce is pleased to see progress towards alleviating the congestion and safety concerns of the George Massey Corridor. We would like to acknowledge and thank the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure’s George Massey Crossing Project team, and the Metro Vancouver George Massey Crossing Task Force for their hard work and dedication thus far. We were very pleased to see this project come back online earlier this year and are encouraged by the firm commitment to tendering this project in 2020.
We would all agree that the urgent replacement of the current George Massey Tunnel, on the fastest timeline possible, has and will continue to be a top priority for our region.
While the final short list consisted of six options, we understand there was insistence from several mayors that only a tunnel option be considered. As a deep bored tunnel has proven to be extremely costly, higher in risk, as well as much larger in scope, an immersed tube tunnel (ITT) has been recommended by mayors, as foreshadowed on May 23, 2019 by Premier Horgan when he said that the Province would move quickly with a plan to twin the tunnel instead of building a new bridge.
While we support the progress that has been made to date, we have concerns with the eight-lane, ITT configuration, which has been chosen by the Task Force as the preferred option.
An eight-lane tunnel with two dedicated transit lanes means there will be three lanes in each direction for commuter traffic; the same as today for those that use the counterflow system. Tunnel users travelling in the off-peak direction will benefit from significantly less congestion, but peak direction commuters will face similar congestion experienced today, on opening day of the new tunnel; this will be a rude awakening after significant delays and taxpayer costs for a new tunnel.
Solutions for this issue are either building additional lanes or installing a counterflow system on opening day. Adding two lanes would increase the scope of the project but we believe the additional lanes are a necessity to gain benefits for commuters travelling in the peak direction. The second less attractive solution is a counterflow lane, which is generally a reactive measure when infrastructure does not meet capacity needs. We believe it would be unfortunate to put ourselves in a position where a stop-gap measure is required on day-one of a new piece of infrastructure’s lifespan.
Ultimately, the independent technical review stated that “reducing the number of lanes from ten to either six or eight will accommodate the majority of the 2045 predicted traffic but with delays in the peak direction in 2045 similar to today”. This is a confusing conclusion as commuters today have three lanes of peak direction traffic with significant congestion. A new tunnel will have the same three lanes of peak direction capacity available to them. It stands to reason that peak direction traffic will be similar to today on its first day of operation (minus transit bus traffic). By 2045, we should expect peak direction congestion to be worse than today.
Significant cost and delays for the project will be encountered due to the necessary planning, business case development, engineering and environmental assessment process that will need to be repeated with the selection of a tunnel option. It must be noted that more than $66 million was already spent on the previous project, as well as much of this work has already been completed for a bridge. We understand from information released by the Ministry, delays due to a new planning and the environmental assessment will be at least 3 years.
We believe negative environmental impacts and risks will be more adverse with a tunnel compared to a bridge. Digging a 50-meter-wide excavation across the bottom of the Fraser River and on shore will have significantly more impact on the environment and marine life than bridge foundations built on the shore of the Fraser River.
Chief Ken Baird of the Tsawwassen First Nation echoes these concerns: “Tsawwassen people, we live off the salmon and we live off the seafood of the Salish Sea and the mighty Fraser River. We are fearful of the negative impacts the other options will have on the Fraser.”
At the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, we worry impacts on agricultural land and private property will be increased due to the need to separate a new tunnel from the existing tunnel to avoid risks to the existing tunnel and traffic.
It’s clear the proposed ITT engenders conflict with local First Nations, as demonstrated by the vote of opposition from Chief Ken Baird. In their March 29, 2019 letter, five Mayors adjacent to the project, and two local First Nations’ Chiefs, stated “the project should address First Nations’ concerns regarding in-river works and fisheries impacts,” and “the project should not create additional, potentially costly, lengthy or prohibitive environmental challenges or reviews.” Of the final six options, we believe the ITT is the most challenging choice to address these issues. As Canada strives to achieve reconciliation, we all must be more mindful of the concerns from our indigenous communities, and the current preferred option disregards their concerns.
For the sake of expediency as well as safety, and long-term regional needs, we hope that the chosen option will build on previous work and studies that have been completed to date, specifically the environmental approval which was granted in 2017. The shift from a bridge to a lower capacity tunnel will trigger a comprehensive federal environmental review, resulting in further delays, and increased costs.
However, if an immersed-tunnel is endorsed by the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors next month and selected by the Province, we strongly recommend that an immersed-tunnel configuration with additional capacity be put forward to ensure that we are building a new piece of infrastructure which meets the needs of future generations, and is not at rush hour capacity on the day it opens.
We hope that you will give thoughtful consideration to this matter and make the right decision that will bring significant benefits to not just our region, but all of Western Canada. We look forward to being actively involved in the dialogue as this project progresses.
President and CEO
Richmond Chamber of Commerce
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