The George Massey Tunnel NON-replacement option

George Massey TunnelI went to a George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project open house in Richmond. There was a clear trend in the questions from the audience: they did not want replacement.

That trend highlights the basic flaw in the public consultation, which begins with the name. It says Tunnel Replacement Project. That means that the public consultation about a supposed problem is designed to preclude the public from expressing their preferred solution to the supposed problem.

However, until December 19, 2012, we can provide online feedback.

Not surprisingly, the project’s feedback form provides no prompt for a DON’T REPLACE IT answer. Still, there are places where one can manage to fit in that sort of response: questions 16, 17, 27 and 28. You can look through the whole survey before starting (after inputting your postal code), and I suggest doing that and drafting responses to one or more of those questions as a first step.

Solutions to supposed problems

There are a few problems that supposedly need to be addressed by a replacement:

Problem”: Port Metro Vancouver’s want for a deeper channel for bigger ships.

Comment: That is not in Richmond’s best interests, since it would likely increase the unloading in Richmond, with the port consuming even more ALR land. The want for a deeper channel is actually a strong reason to retain the existing tunnel that limits the amount the channel can be deepened.

Furthermore, there will only be a deeper channel if the tunnel is removed and a lot of dredging takes place. Removing the tunnel would be a massive undertaking. Logistically, it would be extremely difficult to do at all. When one visualizes that task, the words ECOLOGICAL NIGHTMARE come up in neon lights.

Problem”: Insufficient capacity at peak periods.

Comment: The project figures show that the relatively simple solution is to get more people into buses, along with high-occupancy vehicles. If we can believe the Replacement Project data, buses are only 1% of the traffic but carry up to 26% of the people. An obvious approach would be to provide such terrific transit service that twice as many people use it to get across the South Arm of the Fraser. Obtaining more buses would surely cost less than the alternative, and there would be lots of new jobs for bus drivers.

“Problem”: Current condition of the tunnel.

Comment: It seems that major operating systems need replacing in 10–15 years. That’s a reason for regular maintenance, including replacement of major parts at the intended and needed times—not a reason to replace the tunnel.

“Problem”: Forecast changes.

Comment: “Climate change adaptation” is mentioned as a key design consideration. It is actually a reason for the province to spend the taxpayers’ money to improve the estuary dikes instead of to presume the need for a tunnel replacement with all its side effects. As it happens, the forecast climate change is likely to actually contribute to the Port Metro Vancouver goal of a channel for deeper ships by the same number of metres that the dikes need to be raised.

“Problem”: Ground around the tunnel not seismically stable enough.

Comment: The remedy that a project engineer discussed at the open house seems to be simpler than a replacement even with all the moving of boulders that seems necessary. Furthermore, even though it’s a big job, it would be a bigger job to remove the same rocks from on top of the existing tunnel and around it in order to deepen the channel and then find a way to recycle the existing tunnel. A bonus from the Port Metro Vancouver standpoint is that moving the boulders that currently weigh the tunnel down will add 1–1.5 metres to the channel depth.

“Problem”: Increased use of the tunnel or its replacement in the future.

Comment: The actual cause-and-effect relationship is that a tunnel replacement with increased capacity will lead to the increased number of vehicles going into and out of Richmond. But the Tunnel Replacement Project Team admits that there are no plans to increase the capacity of other routes to/from the north of Richmond. The near-certain effect is an increase in congestion in Richmond from increased traffic coming to/from the north. To avoid the congestion of Richmond that the larger replacement for the tunnel would cause, it’s simplest to limit (or avoid) any increase in the vehicle capacity of the tunnel (or a replacement). As it is now, the Ministry of Transportation figures show that the tunnel traffic has actually been declining since the peak in 2008, as shown in a Canadian Veggie blog chart.

“Problem”: Congestion at the entrance/exit.

Comment: That actually is a problem, but the obvious needs for infrastructure at the Richmond end were not primarily caused by the tunnel and do not require a tunnel replacement.

Some final thoughts

I personally do see possible uses for an additional “tube” (like the two double-lane ones that make up the existing tunnel) and would like to look into it further. It would be a sort of nearby annex to the existing tunnel. On balance, it would be compatible with the points made in this blog. I see it as (a) enabling expedited refurbishing of the existing tube by temporarily replacing one two-lane side and then the other and (b) then becoming a dedicated transit tube for either buses or light rail.

However, the project engineer was unable to provide much information that would help show the possible values and limitations of the additional double-lane tube. I hope to address it in a future article as I more information becomes available. In particular, I am homing in on the preliminary engineering studies for the “Fraser River highway crossing at Deas Island” that I know were done in 1955 for the BC Ministry of Highways.

There is much more to be said on this matter, and Stephen Rees has done his usual great job of explaining things on his blog in “The Massey Tunnel’s future.”

Supposedly the project is mainly to serve Richmond better because most of the tunnel traffic either begins in Richmond or ends up in Richmond. According to the project’s morning rush hour info, 64% of the southbound traffic starts in Richmond and 55% of the northbound traffic ends up in Richmond.

At the Tunnel Replacement open house I attended, the people answering for the project team gave helpful responses with no significant bias against alternatives to replacement, but their responses informed only the small number of people there, perhaps thirty.

In contrast to that breath of fresh air, everything else—the info boards, project website, brochure and feedback form—all give the sense that replacement is a given, as ordained in the project name, the Replacement Project. That is a real problem.


  1. 1
    Pam Price Says:

    Strange how this is suddenly an urgent issue……….just as the government realise they need a deeper channel for the tankers. They don’t consider a bridge for the same reason, I suspect.
    I believe this is already a done deal.
    Quite sneaky!

  2. 2
    Tac Says:

    not a chance in hell! over the new year I suffered a major sickness and I feel part of it was trying to come up with a solution for the massey tunnel crossing- I still rack my brain over the govt thinking they can put a bridge there and destroy the tunnel- this area and scenario is NOTHING like the port mann. Surrey port wants expansion but there gonna have to deal with being the way they are. The plan currently proposed to the public simply can not go through cause there will be way too much environmental damage and putting a tunnel there in the FIRST place would be a huge waste- it defeats the purpose.

    There must be a way to sustain, save and support the tunnel. as its not just south delta/richmond that relies on the crossing, but ferry traffic and american travelers going too and from vancouver as well as the environment/deas island and preserving that “beautiful british columbia” slogan this province has.

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