Infrastructure
November 2, 2017

Province Announces Massey Bridge Reviewer


It was one of the most prudent decisions of the new Provincial government.  Instead of implicitly accepting the proposed ten lane bridge and decommissioning the Massey Tunnel, the new government declared they wanted to know why an overbuilt bridge on the floodplain with the most arable farm land in Canada was the preferred option. They also wanted to figure out why every member of the Mayors’ Council nixed this concept except for Delta, who stood to gain mass 20th century industrialization of the Fraser River if  the bridge went ahead.
As reported by the CBC an engineer with experience consulting on public infrastructure projects is the contracted person leading the technical review of the multi billion dollar proposed bridge. Stan Cowdell, the president of Westmar Project Advisors Inc., is expected to report back in the Spring of 2018 with his findings. Mr Cowdell was also involved in the W.R. Bennett floating bridge in Kelowna which was a private sector partnership to design, build, finance and operate the bridge.
Earlier  Claire Trevena the Transportation Minister  stated that this review would examine whether the ten lane bridge, a smaller crossing, or  different tunnel configurations would be the best option. The review will look at the existing tunnel’s  lifespan, congestion and safety concerns. All the previously produced information will be reviewed and the need for more technical work may be identified in the course of the work.
The independent technical review is expected to culminate in a report by Spring 2018.

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You can learn a lot about the previous Provincial government’s Massey Bridge process by looking at how other observers view it. This article from the Windsor Star compares the Gordie Howe International Bridge project connecting the Windsor and Detroit regions to the halted George Massey bridge project in Metro Vancouver.  That six lane international bridge is estimated to cost two billion dollars and is a public-private partnership, with a suggested opening for 2022.
A community advisory group member of the Gordie Howe Bridge project noted  that the “scuttling” of that bridge could occur without sound financial backing, drawing a comparison to the George Massey bridge which ” was scrapped on the eve of construction despite years of planning, plus $66 million spent on site clearing and other preparatory work.”  
While the Windsor article describes the  Massey Bridge ten lane crossing as being built to ease metro Vancouver commuter traffic, it also describes the intent as replacing “a crumbling, four-lane tunnel feared to be at risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake”,   that had a poor planning process and a lack of support from impacted communities. The article also states that local mayors were critical of the Massey Bridge which would increase congestion by throttling traffic into a four lane road.
Local Member of Parliament Peter Julian (NDP — New Westminster-Burnaby), weighs in calling the Massey Bridge plan “as “back of the napkin” thinking despite the large amount of money spent and preparation work completed.“Maybe it was a large, expensive napkin, but you had 10 lanes going into four lanes,” Julian said Friday. “There was no out (for traffic). It was absurd. It wasn’t well thought out and you had municipalities rejecting the idea.”
Ontario Member of Parliament Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor-West) for the Windsor and Detroit bridge said the two bridge projects appear eerily similar “on the surface,” but in reality are not. “One is an international bridge, the other was a provincial initiative that posed problems for a lot of municipalities which opposed the idea to begin with,” he said. “There seemed to be a lack of consultation, while we had full community consultation as part of a long public process.”
The Massey Tunnel/Bridge Crossing will be re-examined by the Provincial Government, with an expected study completed by late 2018.
 

 
 

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In truly one of the most bizarre events south of the Fraser River, the  Mayor  of the Corporation of Delta was invited to speak to the Surrey Board of Trade as part of their 2017 Surrey Environment and Business Awards. Subject?  Why the business community must force the Provincial government build a ten lane overbuilt multi-billion dollar bridge which will industrialize the banks of the  Fraser River. No mention that most of Delta’s economy is based upon trucking and transshipment, with no diversity into more 21st century businesses. Delta needs the bridge to continue their industrial economic base which is all about motordom.
As quoted in the Delta Optimist “The impacts are not just felt in Delta, but in Surrey, White Rock, Langley, even out in the valley. The replacement of the tunnel with a new bridge will relieve on of the worst traffic highway bottlenecks in Canada and save businesses and commuters millions of dollars lost as a result of congestion, accidents and travel delays” the Mayor said.
To the Surrey business community that might not know that you cannot build a ten lane bridge to solve congestion, the Mayor had an enthusiastic audience. The Mayor also trotted out the  Angus Reid survey that showed that the business community and residents supported the bridge. Without comprehensive road widening and new bridges at Oak Street, congestion at the bridge will simply transfer to other areas of Highway 99.
The clearest statement comes from the new  Provincial Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena who stated  We have talked to mayors who were very concerned that their vision for the Lower Mainland was not being recognized. As minister I think this is a responsible way to be acting when you are talking what will be, no matter what we do, whether it is a bridge, whether it is twinning the tunnel or tunnel and bridge combination, who knows what will come of this, but we are responsible with public money. We want to get this right.”

 
 

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At the end of August Angus Reid  conducted a survey of Metro Vancouver residents about their preferences for a new Massey Bridge at the Massey Tunnel crossing on the Fraser River. Remember that this survey was paid for by the Association of Consulting Engineers of B.C. and the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association. Both of these organizations would have a lot of people quickly employed if the multi-billion dollar ten lane bridge was  to be built. Indeed, that was solidly in the Liberals’ Provincial election platform-build the Massey Bridge, employ 6,000 British Columbians. Don’t ask whether the bridge is in the right place, is sustainable, overbuilt, or a threat to the estuary. It’s about jobs.
Respondents throughout the region were asked the following survey question: “As you may be aware, the provincial government has developed a plan that would see the four-lane Massey Tunnel replaced with a new, higher-capacity bridge over the Fraser River. What are your views on replacing the tunnel with a bridge?”
Now that question has a little bias-it is assuming the replacement of the existing tunnel with a new, shinier, higher performance huge bridge. Respondents were not given any other alternative. The way it was written and said will of course make folks go for the unseen shiny penny, not the existing plodding tunnel which has been so slandered by the Corporation of Delta as antiquated, congested, and dangerous. Never mind the fact that it has performed like a solid workhorse for nearly 60 years and has 80,000 daily vehicles, and that similar designs to this tunnel are still in daily use in Europe. Let’s not consider that the tunnel technology could be part of a hybrid solution of either twinning with a  new tunnel or working in concert with a  smaller new bridge.
Local press including The Vancouver Sun’s Stephanie Ip  reported the survey results, which (of course) suggested that 75 per cent of regional respondents “said they would like to see a higher-capacity bridge built to replace the aging tunnel.”  Those results were even collected by political party, showing that ” those who voted for the B.C. Liberals in the spring election were most likely to support the Liberal-launched bridge project, with 90 per cent voicing support. However, 64 per cent of those who voted NDP also support the project.”
And there’s some interesting stuff-only 37 per cent of respondents in Richmond/Delta, the people most impacted by tunnel “congestion” favoured the new bridge. Which gets us back to why this survey was even conducted in the first place-if you are asking folks farther out in  the region what they want for an efficient driving experience, of course a new bridge sounds perfect. But for Richmond and Delta drivers, the loss of Class 1 arable farmland, the degradation of the banks of the Fraser River for industrial businesses, and the honking huge size of this multi-billion dollar bridge brings up more questions about the most efficient way to support regional transportation. An overbuilt bridge in the wrong place doesn’t solve congestion. It merely moves it.
Kudos to the current Provincial government for reviewing the billion dollar Massey  bridge and working with Metro Vancouver and the Mayors’ Council to figure out what the transportation needs are on a regional basis. Let’s start planning our transit and transportation to ensure that all residents have  mobility and accessibility. Let’s ensure the  plan at the Massey crossing is truly the best fit, and considers all the options, not just an “either/or” on an overbuilt expensive 20th century bridge.

Vancouver Sun graphs Read more »

 

Back to the south side of the Fraser River where the B.C. Hydro corporation, a crown agency is already estimating the logistics should the multi-billion dollar Massey Bridge project be cancelled. Because of the previous government’s single-mindedness in pushing for the creation of this behemoth of a bridge, the two transmission lines nestled in the tunnel need to be moved to overhead lines. And doing that kind of work is not cheap.
As reported in the Vancouver Sun by  Rob Shaw and Jennifer Saltman, a hydro spokesperson stated: “We’ve informed our contractors that, as a precaution, we’re preparing for the possibility of having to suspend the currently scheduled construction work and have asked for them to identify costs related to suspending their work.”  Imagine-it was going to cost Hydro $76 million dollars to move the two 230,000-volt transmission lines. That included temporary housing of the transmission line, creating stable footings, preparing foundations, and of course building access to the line on either side of the new bridge.
The new NDP Transportation Minister Claire Trevena has met with Delta and Richmond mayors and with the chair of the Metro Vancouver board. You can well imagine that conversation, where all the mayors except the mayor of Delta are against this huge ten lane bridge being built on the sensitive Fraser River delta. There are other transportation projects such as the Patullo Bridge that need to be funded. But Delta is still advocating for their bridge to support future plans of industrialization along the Fraser River and bring those tax dollars into Delta’s coffers. Delta  has not yet diversified their industrial base into more sustainable operations.
Costs to date for the bridge are $70 million for the pre construction work and the public consultation. There are three proposals to build the bridge, and those are going to be evaluated in late Fall. Each of the unsuccessful bidders are guaranteed a two million dollar consolation payment. As the Vancouver Sun notes-will the payout be to two bidders, or will the payout be to all three? There are already some hints in that Premier John Horgan has made it clear that the Massey bridge is NOT a priority for the Metro Mayors’ Council who have other transportation objectives.
In a previous Price Tags Vancouver we’ve addressed the fact you just can’t build your way out of congestion-doing so just creates more congestion. And that is evident in this statement from Transportation Minister Claire Trevena:  “We acknowledge there is a big problem of congestion throughout the (Highway) 99 corridor, but we want to find the best solution and that’s what we’ve been doing is taking our time, looking at what has gone forward, what the alternatives are and working very closely with the mayors for the future.”   I  am betting the best solution does not include a multi-billion dollar ten lane Massey bridge that reinforces the ideals of  twentieth century motordom, where the right to move freely in a single occupant vehicle car precedes environmental and  sustainability concerns for the  sensitive Fraser River delta.

 

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You would hope that the Vancouver region could work on a cohesive vision of accessibility and affordability that includes actively listening to the Mayors’ Council and Metro Vancouver and their long-term plan. But in Delta with their 100,000 plus population and reliance on all things vehicle and related to the Port, an analysis of the best approach at the Massey Tunnel crossing holds no compromise-they want their bridge.
The Vancouver Sun and Jennifer Saltman report on the meeting held with Delta’ mayor and city manager  with the editorial board of the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers.  You wonder if that editorial board was able to keep a straight face with the pronouncements that were pretty positional from Delta’s top brass. They maintained that “replacing the George Massey Tunnel should be a priority for the new provincial government because it’s old, congested, dangerous to drivers and first responders — and will not withstand even a moderate earthquake.”

 
“This tunnel’s rotting. Are we just going to let it rot?” Delta Chief Administrative Officer George Harvie said.”  The Delta contingent trotted out the same rationale as previously reported in Price Tags-the tunnel is too old, a bridge can stand a stronger earthquake, a new tunnel will disrupt farmland and be more expensive. Nothing new here-in fact all the other mayors in the region opposed the Massey bridge project because of its impacts on regional livability, the lack of a transparent public process, and changing and insufficient background information access. But never mind that, the Mayor of Delta believes that the Mayors are not dealing with the proposed bridge because it is a Provincial initiative.
Meanwhile back in Delta the lack of consultation with local residents over the Massey crossing has been further flamed by Delta City Hall’s full-page ad in the Vancouver Sun advocating their position of “Bridge Good” and “Tunnel Bad”. As Nicholas Wong (who ran as an independent MLA in Delta) notes  “Christy Clark announced the bridge in 2013, years before any inquiry was done to evaluate alternative options. Also remember, the real cost of the bridge was purposely withheld by the Liberals and redacted in the project’s public documents. Where is the due process? Despite this, Delta still thinks all necessary information is publicly available. Our rookie MLA (Ian Paton, who is strangely serving a dual role  as an MLA AND a member of Delta Council) even went so far as to say this practice of redacting documents and withholding information, like the bridge proposal has, is “just how you do business.”
Delta can pay tens of thousands of our tax dollars to call out others for spreading rumours and misinformation, but turns around and uses statements from a report more than 28 years old as evidence for its position. There were supposed to be two phases of seismic upgrades to address those exact concerns.”
“This is by no means the extent to the unjustifiable information being put forth by those in favour of a bridge. They can continue to call this misinformation all they want, but all I did was take the time to read their own documents.
After years of research and extensively reading the documents presented on the bridge proposal, I understand how drastically any replacement option will impact our community. If anyone has any information that I do not have or questions about where or how I derive my facts, please get in touch.”

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There is now direct crossing controversy in Delta where the editor of the Delta Optimist has gone on record favouring the option of an overbuilt Massey Bridge for safety reasons-strangely advocating exactly the points put forward by the Delta Mayor and City Manager in their thousands of dollars paid ad in the Vancouver Sun. This crossing upgrade is not supported by the Mayors’ Council or Metro Vancouver. Commenters immediately took the editor to task as being a spokesman for the Corporation of Delta.
The editor said: “Delta has focused its persuasion efforts on the need to safeguard the public and the economy, particularly as it relates to the tunnel’s seismic situation, as well as the costs and shortcomings of other crossing options…it’s not technically feasible to upgrade the tunnel to meet current seismic standards, a finding of a report done a decade ago after the first phase of seismic work had been undertaken. A more recent report says the tunnel would only be able to withstand a one-in-275-year earthquake, which is far below today’s one-in-2,475-year standard. As far as building a new tunnel rather than a bridge, a favourite rallying cry of project opponents, reports in Delta’s package show it would be more costly ($4.3 billion vs. $3.5 billion), have greater environmental impacts and take far longer to get the necessary approvals.”
Now  there IS a response from Delta residents that believe they have been (no pun intended) railroaded into a bridge that does not serve their purposes. As one reader noted he was aghast that Delta would speak for the taxpayers of that municipality without asking them. As the reader wrote “In the bridge case, there is ample evidence that the community is very disturbed at the prospect of this huge bridge” and asked for some direct community consultation.
Meanwhile in Richmond a letter writer to the Richmond News noted  “There is no doubt the Fraser crossing needs to be improved in order to be effective for all traffic and transit needs. However, the safety record of the tunnel speaks for itself. If “the potential for a catastrophic failure of the tunnel is real,” why are the Dutch with a similar and older tunnel not concerned with its safety?” The writer also noted that in an earthquake “The road system as it exists will fail before the tunnel will. In the event of a serious earthquake, it will make no difference if a bridge is safer than a tunnel. The bridge, should it survive, will not serve any purpose. If Richmond has the catastrophic results that are predicted with an earthquake of this magnitude, the crossing will be inaccessible and irrelevant…The fact is that in a seismic event as major as this report discusses, the real issue of the crossings will be how to evacuate and support the affected areas and people, not the economy of Delta or Surrey.”

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The game of “Whack a Mole” got a little more complex in Delta where the Corporation decided to take out a whole page ad in the front section of the Vancouver Sun to get across their various points. Delta is insisting that no matter what the rest of Metro Vancouver or the Mayor’s Council says, Delta needs their ten lane overbuilt multi-billion dollar bridge to serve their 100,000 population, and the region better get on board.

With the underwhelming and sufficiently  slanted  title of  “Politics and Misinformation Must Not Stop Bridge Construction” Delta offers “the facts” on the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. With no footnotes to direct references, we are told “Twinning the Tunnel is NOT AN OPTION!”  “THE EXISTING TUNNEL CANNOT BE SUFFICIENTLY UPGRADED!” And my personal favourite “A REPLACEMENT TUNNEL IS MORE EXPENSIVE!”. Delta suggests that a replacement  tunnel would be $4.3 billion dollars versus $3.5 billion dollars for that ten lane bridge. Imagine-in Delta’s estimates, we are only looking at financial costs, not the ecological savings of developing a tunnel with a more sound ecological footprint that does not suck up hectares of the most arable lane in Canada.
There is more hype in the rest of the ad  with no direct referencing but you get the point. There are eleven factoids and Delta is letting us know “Public safety is at risk and the solution is known-the new bridge is necessary, supported by facts and vital for the economy of the region and the province”.
There’s a website you are encouraged to go to for vital information on this bridge-www.WeNeedaBridge.ca which surprise surprise, just goes straight to the Corporation of Delta’s website.
One of the Province’s most trusted urbanists told me that he had reviewed the statistics for Delta and realized that they  had a very heavy reliance on industrialization and the Port. That comes out in the “oops” statistic where Delta tells us that “twelve per cent of the traffic moving through the tunnel are trucks”, and that is “MORE THAN 3X HIGHER THAN OTHER BRIDGES IN THE REGION”. This is not about  accessibility for the region-this is for the Corporation of Delta to continue industrializing the Fraser River and expanding truck shipping from Deltaport.
But Delta has answered all the questions to their satisfaction, with  their taxpayers footing the bill for their front newspaper section largesse. Let’s hope that non-biased crossing review is coming soon, and doesn’t require full-page newspaper ads.

 

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This just in from Business in Vancouver and Nelson Bennett, reporter. Documents leaked to and by the NDP Party show that while “replacing the George Massey Tunnel with a bridge would cost $3.5 billion to build, but another $8 billion in debt servicing”.

“The party says it filed freedom of information request several months ago to obtain information on the project’s financing. The documents released had financing details redacted, the NDP press release states. But the party then received leaked documents that detail the proposed bond issues for the project. It released those documents Friday May 5, along with a press release that states, “financing costs for the bridge will add another $8 billion in costs that British Columbians will be paying for the next 50 years – bringing the total bill to nearly $12 billion.
“The two-page document shows the province proposes to raise the capital for the bridge through the issuing of 18 bonds, at $200 million to $525 million each, with various maturity terms.”

“During the construction phase, the government would issue seven-year term bullet bonds with a 3.15% interest rate, as well as 30-year bonds at 3.57% to 3.9% interest rates.The total provincial interest costs on the bonds between 2017 and 2047 would be $5.2 billion, “prior to federal assistance.” In other words, that’s how much the interest from the province would be without federal money.”
“The total interest costs between 2017 and 2068 – when the debt would be retired – would be $8 billion.
The Premier was asked about the $8 billion dollars in interest repayments but responded “It’s going to come in on budget, it’s going to come in on time, and we’re going to get it done like we said we would.”
But the Transportation Minister of B.C. Todd Stone said the interest payments would be  spread over 50 years the same as a mortgage on a house.
As an example, if you bought a home for $750,000 today and pay it off over a 35- year period, you’ll pay nearly $1 million in interest. You wouldn’t say you paid $1.75 million for the home. It’s the exactly the same principle for the Massey Bridge – and the reason we’re doing it is to keep toll rates low for commuters.”

 
 

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