In early October the task force set up by the Metro Vancouver mayors came to a consensus and decided that an eight lane immersive tunnel would be the agreed upon option to replace the aging Massey Tunnel. The existing four lane Massey Tunnel still has another fifty years of service, but if used for transit would need seismic work for a one-in -475 year seismic event, and flood protection at entrances. Since these upgrades would be substantial, the task force examined five options, choosing the eight-lane tunnel. Two of the lanes of the tunnel would be dedicated for transit.
The Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council will now review the report and the decision of the task force, and forward their recommendation to the Province. Under the previous Liberal government, the Province had more of a quick and dirty approach which favoured an expansive and overbuilt ten lane bridge with all the requisite overpasses and land usurping ramps. Using the immersive tunnel technology allows for slope grades that would allow transit lanes to be converted to rail in the future. While cost estimates were not discussed, it is suggested that the cost of this option is similar to building a bridge. Environmental impacts would result from excavating both river banks, as well as mitigating damage to existing fish habitats. You can take a look at the report of the Massey Crossing Task Force here.
While a smaller crossing at the existing Massey Tunnel with a separate crossing of the Fraser River that aligned up to truck routes for Vancouver port bound traffic may have made more sense, it appears that cost was a factor in the choice of one bigger tunnel. The fact that this proposed tunnel is being located on sensitive river delta that will be prone to future flooding also needs to be addressed.
This time the Province under the NDP government asked the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council to come to a consensus of what type of crossing would replace the existing Massey Tunnel. Of course a complete environmental assessment will also be necessary, expected to take a year to produce.
There’s no surprise that critics are decrying the fact that the previous Liberal provincial government’s massive bridge will not be built, throwing their hands up about the fact this could have been built faster. But while the previously proposed overbuilt bridge may have proceeded faster, the previous government had no plan on how to manage congestion on either side of the bridge. They never addressed the fact that traffic heading to Vancouver had to throat down to the two lane Oak Street Bridge. It was in many ways a pet project to produce jobs and votes, but did not have the supportive infrastructure to move increased projected traffic anywhere. It was also not supported by the Mayors’ Council with the exception of the Mayor of Delta who has been an outlier and port trucking traffic booster.
And that brings up the concept of induced demand. As described in this City Lab article, induced demand “refers to the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion”.
This refers to the daily amount most people are prepared to travel to work, and while home locations will change, the travel time remains constant. As travel times become shorter with more dedicated travel lanes through a new tunnel, commuters can locate farther out, with the “constant” said to be about one hour in travel time. Of course as more people locate farther away, more congestion will occur at the Massey Crossing.
What also needs to be discussed is how a new eight lane tunnel addresses the goals around sustainability for the region, and if there are other ways to make transit more appealing by having less vehicular lanes, or by road/congestion pricing. Transit needs to be quick, comfortable and reliable and be easy to use, with a faster trip compared to a single occupant automobile.
The current congestion on the Port Mann Bridge is a case in point~with over 150,000 daily crossings and with the City of Surrey expanding by 1,000 people monthly, the bridge shows what induced demand can do, with a 62 percent increase of bridge traffic in five years.
It’s pretty clear that we can’t solve congestion by just building larger infrastructure, but with the Province’s Climate Plan we need to move smarter to reduce emissions. That means running the truck traffic from Deltaport on a 24 hour schedule like every other large port in North America, and scheduling trucks through the tunnel at non-peak times. It means being serious about road pricing and congestion charges, and earmarking those funds for efficient, comfortable and fast transit options.
Moving smarter in the region needs to be discussed now.
Lockwood Cartoon with thanks to Tom Durning