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Massey Bridge Machinations (2017-03)

The B.C. government’s project to replace the George Massey Tunnel, south of Vancouver, with a mega-bridge continues to generate controversy. Two significant news items were recently published.


B.C.’s online news organisation, The Tyee, published a pair of articles on the proposed bridge. They are part of The Tyee’s pre-election coverage for the May provincial election.

The first article (“How B.C. Taxpayers Ended Up Paying for the $3.5-billion Massey Bridge) is a useful summary of how we got to a 10-lane bridge proposal. The province claims a bridge is necessary to relieve congestion and provide a seismically-safe alternative to the tunnel. However, this article’s back story is that the proposal resulted from Port Metro Vancouver’s [PMV] desire to allow deeper-draft ships into the Fraser River, to serve PMV’s and private sector port and industrial facilities. The existing tunnel limits draft to 11.5 metres, whereas PMV desires drafts of 15.5 to 18.5 metres, depending on the life span of the tunnel’s replacement.

The article discusses how a group of citizens, using FOI requests and determined sleuthing, came up with a number of “smoking gun” e-mails detailing PMV’s wish for a bridge to replace the tunnel and eventual provincial concurrence. FOI requests for provincial e-mails were rebuffed, as no such e-mails apparently existed (a familiar story to anyone who follows BC provincial politics). However, e-mails were found in recipients’, such as Transport Canada, records. The timeline in these messages was several months before the province announced its plans for a tunnel replacement project and almost 2 years before the bridge replacement proposal was made public.

The second Tyee article (“To Critics, Massey Bridge is an Environmental and Planning Disaster), begins with a B.C. government graphic which clearly shows everything that is wrong about the bridge proposal. It depicts a huge, 1960’s-era, multi-level, freeway interchange that is clearly for automobile and truck traffic. There are hints at a transit lane through the interchange and a pedestrian/cycle path snakes around and under it but this is “Motordom” (shout-out to Gordon Price’s blog) writ large.

The bridge proposal supports more auto-dependent, suburban sprawl and will put industrial development pressure on farm land in South Surrey and Delta. Richmond’s Mayor Brodie, a vocal opponent of the bridge, says it goes against decades of Metro  Vancouver’s regional planning to reduce sprawl and increase transit usage. He compares the fight against the bridge to Vancouver’s anti-freeway movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Unfortunately, this fight is with a senior level of government that, no matter what the political stripe, has shown little regard for Metro Vancouver’s priorities.

With the tunnel gone, PMV could argue for dredging of the river, allowing larger ships to travel upstream. Deep dredging and industrialisation of the river have serious environment impacts. A faster flowing river, with hardened boundaries eliminates the quiet places where wildlife rests and feeds; increases silt flows affecting migratory bird habitat and the Salish Sea; and potentially allows salt water (the Fraser River is tidal in this section) to flow further upstream, affecting agricultural production.  Faster water flows can also lead to “scouring” of river banks with catastrophic results – a large hydro tower collapsed at the edge of the Fraser River several years ago as a result of its piers having supporting material washed away.

It should be noted that all Metro Vancouver’s mayors (except Delta’s) oppose the bridge project. Support comes from the BC Government, PMV, shippers and the Tsawwassen First Nation (developers of the Tsawwassen Mills mega-mall)


The Vancouver Sun’s, Vaughn Palmer pointed out an interesting piece of information from the B.C. government’s recent budget and B.C. Hydro’s 2017 service plan. The Hydro utility has a $76-million project to replace two 230 Kilovolt transmission circuits that use the tunnel. No word on who will pay for the re-location – the bridge project, the utility or a combination of both (ultimately the taxpayers, of course). Apparently, Hydro started the work on the transmission project before the bridge project received environmental approval and before the transportation ministry began site preparations. Palmer wonders why the rush and then answers his own question by stating that Premier Clark promised the project would start before the next election.

And so it has.

About the Author

Rick Jelfs

Rick Jelfs is the Secretary of Transport Action BC

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