It is no surprise that as soon as a potential pause was suggested for the Massey Bridge (now approaching 12 billion dollars with financing costs) that fear mongering would come out, as noted in the Delta Optimist. It is one of those things that is going to look very odd to future generations in Metro Vancouver. Here was a massive bridge being placed on the sensitive floodplain and on the most arable soils in Canada, ostensibly protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve. The placement of the bridge was counter to the Mayors’ Council and to Metro Vancouver, and contained no infrastructure to enable rapid public transit. The Liberal government trotted out that it was being built for “congestion” despite the fact that the Port does not operate on a 24 hour time-table like every other port in North America, and that trucking is allowed through the tunnel even at rush hours. The tunnel which is very similar to ones used in Europe all of a sudden was said to not be earthquake-proof, even though earlier studies showed it was.
Many assumed that the bridge was being built to accommodate the draft of larger ships up the Fraser, and indeed documentation has been obtained suggesting this. Recently released materials now suggest that the cost of dredging may be astronomical, which again suggests that twinning the tunnels may be the prudent option.
Green leader Andrew Weaver has suggested that a second tunnel would be a more inexpensive option, and that a new bridge may not be part of the overall metro Vancouver transportation plan. In a moment of clarity that was so lacking from the Liberals going into the election, Weaver noted “that what is needed is a comprehensive strategy in Metro Vancouver for transportation that includes public transportation, bridge retrofits, and may include a second tunnel.”
A cogent response is here from Malcolm Johnston.  He states:  “Fake news is endemic in today’s world, especially if one does not get one’s way politically…The now reported $12 billion bridge was strictly a political decision and abandoning its construction will, once again, be a political decision…With the Port Authority, now seemingly washing their hands of bringing Panama Max. tankers and colliers up the Fraser, due to the cost of dredging the South Arm, the need for this “back of an envelope” designed mega bridge is gone. What is desperately needed is sound and honest transportation planning for the Vancouver/Richmond and South Delta/Surrey and not … designed to benefit friends of the government, who “pay to play”.


  1. deleted as per editorial policy
    There are a lot of qualified and knowledgeable people who can talk about transit, engineering and planning in Vancouver, but I don’t the RtfV crowd are among them.

  2. If they go with a tunnel, hopefully they can funnel some of that unspent money into pushing the Millenium Skytrain extension all the way to UBC, rather than the half-assed only to Arbutus option.

    1. I think if they don’t build the bridge …. they can quite easily build every single transit project that everyone in the region has ever dreamed about (save maybe the bridge to the Sunshine coast, also a ??? seemingly political project) … byebye bridge, hello future?

    2. If you’ve been riding the #99 this spring like I have, you’ll have noticed a distinct lack of passengers west of Arbutus compared with “Sorry Bus Full” signs on the eastern section. There is an immediate need for more capacity on the planned SkyTrain section while high capacity transit west of Granville remains (for now) necessary only a few hours/day from September to March. Re-thinking rapid transit in Kitsilano in light of developments on native land (UBC Block F, Jericho, Heather, etc.) and future re-zonings is something I think needs to be done before plunging farther west.
      I’m not a civil engineer, but I strongly suspect there is also a technical reason for considering a change in technology or at least a change in tunnelling technology west of Arbutus. The land between Macdonald and Alma is a low-lying basin of soft soil that’s closer to sea level than any other section west of the False Creek Flats where the Millennium line is above ground rather than tunnelled. A tunnel boring machine brought in to dig from Scotia Street to Arbutus would likely be forced to surface before reaching Macdonald. Neither an elevated guideway nor a shallow cut and cover tunnel (years of Cambie-like disruption) would be a popular choice through Kitsilano.

      1. David, UBC is a huge driver of traffic. We know there will be the development of the Jericho Lands in the not so distant future, it is not an “if”. It makes no sense not to build the line to its ultimate destination, especially if we get to a point soon when the stars are aligned with all levels of gov’t. Who knows when that might happen again.

      2. David, TBMs bored the twin tubes through the muck of False Creek, under the ocean, then into the sandstone of the downtown peninsula. The technology is up to par with most ground conditions. The cutting rotor out front can be altered in situ with different cutting heads, air pressure and a number of other elements. The concrete tunnel liner segments can also be designed with waterproof seals and special grout mixes.
        I agree with Bob that this subway project should be driven all the way to UBC in one contract. It’s common practice that contractors and suppliers offer lower unit prices with a larger scope of work. Splitting the contract into two or more separate tenders with perhaps a decade or two in between (make it 40++ if the BC Libs return to power) just increases the overall cost, as would a P3 with a private operator.
        Waiting for density / ridership to happen first only removes the capacity to plan development around known stations, or leads to building for capacity while the transit asset is delayed, as demonstrated in Port Moody to their great frustration waiting for the Evergreen Line. Not completing a high-capacity rapid transit project also fails to account for the Network Effect, which could dramatically increase ridership the day it opens. In my opinion, the pent up latent demand is very high on Broadway.
        Twin bored tunnels beyond Arbutus may be underused for several years, but not having them means that you cannot plan the city or the campus properly. 60% of the trains can be easily returned up the Broadway Corridor with standard track switches while 40% continue to campus under current transit demand, and that ratio can be changed at the push of a few keys if the tunnels are already in place.

  3. Delta Mayor Lois Jackson this week expressed frustration that the project could be stopped, and that there’s been so much misinformation, noting the aging tunnel, which doesn’t meet current seismic standards, only has a few more useful years of life. Having to build another tunnel a few years from now once a second tunnel was built instead of a bridge would be an big waste of money, she said.
    “The mayors have not talked about this bridge, ever, and they do not intend to talk about the bridge, ever. They want to talk about their own programs. They want to talk about the Pattullo Bridge replacement. They want to talk about the (rapid transit) line in Vancouver and line out in Surrey. They do not, have not and will not ever talk about the replacement of the George Massey Tunnel,” she said.
    Jackson said the bridge would have far fewer impacts on farming or the river compared to another tunnel. Delta and project officials have also warned a strong earthquake will render the current crossing useless or completely destroyed, leaving Delta cut off from its neighbours.

    1. You – and Jackson — are omitting an important fact: This bridge comes with a massively overbuilt freeway on top of the massively overbuilt bridge. An additional tunnel will result in a more modest highway lane expansion, certainly not 21-lanes at the Steveston interchange. There is also the distinct possibility that an NDP-G government, should they decide to proceed with a second tunnel, will run better transit on dedicated lanes from Day One.
      My understanding of the engineering is limited, but I’ll give it a try. I think the criticism on seismic issues is being purposely slanted toward the bridge. The extraordinary geotechnical conditions presented to a pile-driven bridge foundation is akin to a weight attached to long pencils placed on top of a 10-foot stack of mushy undercooked pancakes. They will sink. One way to counter that would be to permanently freeze the ground below and around the deeply-driven piles. Of course, the energy requirements to keep a half million m3 of muck frozen will push the operating costs to the stratosphere on a piece of infrastructure that will never recover operating costs of any kind.
      A tunnel lays flat, not unlike the ‘raft’ foundations built under mid-rises in Richmond. The weight is distributed evenly over a very large area. The seismic forces will likely not break the concrete tunnel sections because the tunnel will move with the ground underneath. What needs reinforcement will no doubt be the joints between the sections. The tunnel entries will also need protection from rising during the 200-year river floods, and in case the tunnels do sink a bit during an earthquake even with raft foundations. Operations to protect the entries will probably require temporary closure of the tunnels. A bridge has an advantage in the river flooding scenario because it can stay open, but not necessarily during an earthquake. And the bridge will always be sinking a little every year, probably unevenly at that, and a good jolt of liquefaction may actually cause it to visibly list. A flooded tunnel can be pumped out and opened again in probably a week’s time. A listing bridge will become artificial habitat for birds and flora, but will never support traffic again.

      1. I think the technical aspect is not as much as the issue as the political and ethical context. These days we can pretty much engineering a solution for any natural condition, and we will extend and improve our abilities to do so to a compound rate that parallels technology as it doubles almost every decade. It is just a simple matter of cost. Luckily engineers don’t make the decisions but elected officials do who are accountable to their constituents and must balance all things, including affordability.
        And so it should be, with everyone playing their proper role. Ideally elected officials will seek decisions that are fair and maximize multiple-bottom line value for society in a transparent and honest manner. And ideally engineers will abide to their professional code of ethics and seek to hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public, and protection of the environment, as faithful agents conducting themselves in good faith and sincerity.
        This includes presenting clearly the possible consequences if professional decisions or judgements are overruled or disregarded, as well as providing unbiased options with an understanding of the needs and values of society. It’s that easy.

  4. I’ve put the current situation for the Massey project in the context of the trend for the ecological future of the Fraser River Estuary, which—for the past few weeks—has been upward for a change. That’s on my Richmond’s Garden City Conservation blog in “The Fraser Estuary is trending well,” Essentially the same content will appear in my “Digging Deep” column in the Richmond News of June 14, but the blog version has the benefit of hyperlinks and a bit more detail.

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