RICHMOND, B.C. — An eight-lane tunnel under the Fraser River will replace an obsolete crossing that has frustrated Metro Vancouver drivers for decades.
The B.C. government announced the new tunnel connecting the cities of Delta and Richmond on Highway 99 will cost $4.15 billion, with an estimated completion date of 2030.
Construction of the replacement for the George Massey Tunnel is set to start in 2025,Transportation Minister Rob Fleming told a news conference Wednesday.
The new tunnel will improve traffic flow, save travel time and make travel easier for those taking transit, cycling or walking, he said, adding it will not be tolled.
Two of the eight lanes, one in each direction, will be dedicated to rapid bus transit and there will be separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians.
"We're developing a tunnel that will not only significantly improve travel along (the) Highway 99 corridor but will also give people real options to leave their cars at home in favour of efficient public transit or active transportation," Fleming said.
Asked whether the planned tunnel will really reduce travel time for commuters during rush hour given two lanes will be reserved for buses, Fleming said the current four-lane tunnel uses a counter-flow system that leads to congestion.
"When it's in a counter-flow peak period, it goes down to one lane in one direction, so you get congestion throughout the (tunnel)" wherever you're heading, he said.
The tunnel option was chosen instead of an eight-lane bridge because it was endorsed by the regional district, causes the least harm to the surrounding area, including the river, and allows for work to start right away, the province said.
Former premier Christy Clark promised a 10-lane bridge during the 2013 election, but the work was put on hold when the NDP took power in 2017.
The bridge project had a completion date set for 2022 and in defence of the delay, Fleming pointed to "strenuous objections" to that plan from local governments.
The BC Liberals responded to the announcement of the new tunnel, saying commuters are being forced to wait in gridlock for another 10 years.
"Construction on the new tunnel will not begin for five years, leaving people trying to get to work, a doctor's appointment or their kid's practice to pay the price," Liberal transportation critic Michael Lee said in a statement.
The estimated cost of the project is $1.55 billion higher than the bridge proposed by the former Liberal government, the statement said.
An environmental assessment certificate had been issued for the previously planned bridge and Fleming said the province will move ahead immediately with improvements to the surrounding infrastructure while it works through the procurement and environmental assessment processes for the new tunnel.
"We're going to have a robust environmental assessment on this project, we're going to continue to work with Indigenous rights holders," he said.
The province is hoping to receive "significant federal contribution" to help cover the cost of the project, Fleming said.
"The discussions we've had with the federal government have been very productive in this regard," he said, adding that to his knowledge, the major parties campaigning in the federal election set for Sept. 20 are also supportive of the project.
"We've made the case that this is a nationally significant trade corridor."
Asked how long the new crossing is expected to keep up with population growth and development in the region, Fleming said congestion modelling and growth projections will be part of a business case that should soon be publicly available.
— by Brenna Owen in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press