Why Massey Tunnel action should start now

Update: The provincial government wants to start a new bridge in 2017. Bad decision.

Note: This article is also  a Richmond Review column.

The time is now, not years from now, for certain steps with the George Massey Tunnel.

We must not get lulled to the pace of the tunnel review. It’s gone on for decades, it revives now and then, and its current revival is useful, but the talk has led just once to crucial action. That was about eight years ago, when the tunnel was reinforced on the inner side.

It was the first of two stages of seismic upgrades to prepare for earthquakes. There’s been no second stage, and the need for safeness should still be met, not let slide.

For quality of life, it’s also time to resolve the traffic hindrance known as the Steveston Interchange. There’s been a solution on paper for 22 years, but nothing’s been built yet.

The seismic and interchange actions are vital. What’s more, the cost would be low in relation to the impact.

Of course, the tunnel review downplays cost, but you and I do care about it. In view of the high suggested cost of stated options, the two vital actions look even more prudent.

Fortunately, all five of the options fit well with the vital actions, which are typically listed in the “Key Features” of the options. The intent is to take much-needed steps at the best time, not add steps.

With a prompt start, the seismic and interchange upgrades will soon put an end to undue risks and save commuters a lot of hours. What’s more, when an “option” project gets done at last, the steps done now will have made it safer, faster and less costly.

New Steveston Interchange -1991 designFor the Steveston Interchange action, the diagram shown is still the basic concept, even though the tunnel review came up with it way back in 1991. Notice the northeast loop, which now should be much larger than appears. It will let northbound traffic safely exit Highway 99, circle back to Steveston Highway and head toward Steveston.

That new loop will end the oft-clogged state of the tunnel’s east lane. (It will end the backups south from Steveston Highway in the present exit.)

By the way, the new loop will use part of an ALR lot and affect the drainage, which is already a problem. I hope a project leader will ensure ideal drainage for the large remainder of the lot, a good outcome for everyone and agriculture.

Re the seismic-upgrade action, the tunnel review calls it “ground strengthening around the tunnel and approaches.” Engineers called it “geotechnical retrofit design” when they worked it out nine years ago. By any name, with updated plans and prompt action, there’ll soon be better earthquake safeguards.

The tunnel review lists the seismic-upgrade action as a feature of three of the five stated options. It’s also an apt step for the other options—for the huge new tunnel or bridge that would allow big ships to pass. One of those could take ten or fifteen years, and the risk might get worse during construction beside or above the existing tunnel. The interim safeguard would at least bring peace of mind.

Since the vital actions are mainly up to the province, we need MLAs we can trust to get results on this, along with our council and MPs. With their help, what we gain soon will be the start of long-term gain.

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This is one of a series articles in the Massey Tunnel Project category.

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