Fraser Delta

Mega-bridge, mega-bucks

BC Liberals push for a replacement for the Massey Tunnel at too high a cost to the environment and local government

by Nic Slater

The 67-year-old Massey Tunnel sits in the middle of BC’s largest river delta (photo of Fraser delta, above, by Evan Leeson). Over 320 square kilometres of former marshlands that occupy a sea level estuary along the Pacific Flyway, it is one of North America’s most important migratory bird routes. Most Vancouver residents are unaware of the importance of the Fraser River’s delta even though it sits in their own backyard. A birder’s paradise for decades, it is also a recreational waterway with untapped potential.

Replacing the four-lane Massey Tunnel with a 10-lane, $4 billion (before cost over-runs) mega-bridge has little to do with car traffic that is constricted by too many single occupant cars. The Vancouver ‘federal’ Port Authority has been the only significant proponent of a bridge that would facilitate dredging the Fraser another five metres lower than the existing tunnel, in order to accommodate some of the world’s largest ships. Fast forward to the BC Liberal Government’s LNG pipedream and a major LNG plant expansion in Delta for such ships that will require a minimum 200-foot bridge clearance.

In Richmond, directly across the river, Vancouver’s main jet fuel facility will be situated, and up the river in Surrey would be the newly proposed US coal export facility. Imagine, our mighty Fraser could soon be a major energy super highway and that is before one considers the constant threat of tar sands pipelines that have yet to find a home.

The Fraser’s increased dredged depth for the shipping channel has created a salinity problem for farmers in Delta and Richmond, due to the heavier salt water wedge forcing its way up to almost as far as the Alex Fraser Bridge. Irrigation of farmlands will fast become a thing of the past once the spring freshet wanes and allows the salt water wedge to turn the river’s fresh water into water too salty for farming. In fact, dredging to unprecedented river depths is an unknown that can only be determined through years of study, yet the Federal Government has refused to implement an Environmental Review of the project. That leaves what’s left of the Provincial Environmental Assessment to conserve the most abundant salmon bearing river in BC and Canada. Dredging the Fraser deeper may be good for the shipping industry, but it could potentially make the whole of the delta estuary a saltwater marsh that would no longer support the spawning of our salmon.

Tunnel costs vary depending on the design. Take for instance the M86 in Paris. Completed in 2010, it cost $320 million Cdn./mile for six lanes and it was one of the more expensive tunnels. Compare that to $4 billion for a 10-lane, one-mile-long Massey Tunnel replacement bridge and it seems costs have risen dramatically in seven years. Either that or the BC Liberal Government has lost any ability to build a cost effective transportation system.

Proponents of tunnels point out the existing Massey Tunnel is one-kilometre long. In Europe, between Denmark and Germany, an eight-lane, 18-kilometre tunnel is being built at a cost of $4.5 billion or $250 million/kilometre. The BC Liberals’ stated costs and reasons for a new bridge have no viable business case, something that has been requested through Freedom of Information (FOIs) and that the same government has refused to comply with.

Metro Vancouver does not support the BC government’s plans to replace the tunnel, stating a 10-lane bridge does not address traffic congestion problems and would download costly infrastructure work on local governments. Of the Metro Vancouver mayors, 23 of 24 voted against building a new 10-lane bridge. A new bridge would open the funnel up and allow traffic into Richmond more quickly, creating a bottleneck at the Oak and Knight Street bridges and, of course, further worsen Vancouver traffic.

The cost of this BC Liberal mega project is $1,000 for every man, woman and child in BC and that is before the financing costs are counted.

Reference: Article at tunneltalk.com: “Cost benefits of large-diameter bored tunnels.”

Nic Slater is a Vancouver activist and a Director of Fraser Voices. Facebook: Fraser Voices. Twitter: @Save_The_Fraser.

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