Premier Christy Clark is pledging to begin work to replace the George Massey tunnel and ease intense traffic congestion on Highway 99 in Metro Vancouver.
But she said it’s way too early to say if the new bridge or tunnel – to be built over 10 years – will be tolled.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Clark told reporters. “We don’t even know what the replacement would look like.”
Some people in the region prefer a tunnel, while others want a bridge, she said.
“We are just beginning the planning process.”
She made the announcement Friday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria, and cited projections Metro Vancouver’s population will grow by another million people by 2031 and that traffic volumes on major highways will grow 30 per cent over the same period.
“It’s an economic bottleneck,” Clark said. “Talk to anybody who drives through the Massey Tunnel in rush hour commute and they will tell you it’s a huge headache.”
The announcement is being hailed by Delta civic leaders, who have been pushing the case for a rebuilt crossing with more lanes in light of growing container truck traffic from DeltaPort.
But the mere possibility a new Deas crossing would be tolled is certain to inflame the debate in Metro Vancouver over whether the ad hoc tolling of some crossings must be reformed into some more consistent, equitable system.
A tolled tunnel or bridge there in addition to a possibly tolled Pattullo Bridge replacement would leave only the Alex Fraser Bridge as the only free crossing of the Fraser River to Surrey and Delta.
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, vice-chair of the TransLink mayors’ council, called it a “great announcement” but added it underscores the need to consider new funding solutions beyond bridge tolls.
“We need to sit down and talk about an integrated approach to funding transit and road pricing,” he said. “I believe the premier and the government are open to that.”
NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said there are real benefits to replacing the tunnel, particularly with a bridge instead.
“You could have ships with a deeper draft go further up the river up to Fraser port in Surrey,” Ralston said, adding there’s no doubt traffic outstrips the tunnel’s capacity.
But he called Clark’s announcement vague and nearly meaningless.
“It is so far out in the future that it really amounts to just a declaration of intention,” he said.
Ralston said the announcement seems at odds with the province’s latest quarterly financial report signaling huge reductions in capital spending.
The Massey tunnel, built in 1958, is now congested more than four hours a day and runs only one of four lanes of traffic in the off-peak direction during the morning and evening rush.
Transportation minister Mary Polak said consultations with stakeholders will look at whether to pursue a bridge or tunnel, whether to use the current alignment or shift it, and how to pay for it.
“It’s fair to say that there will be all number of options discussed as we begin the planning of this,” she said. “One of those might be tolls but it is too early to tell.”
Clark also promised funding for a new 16 Avenue interchange at Highway 99 in Surrey.