Some premier tunnel-safety tips

premier-christy-clark-from-common-sense-canadianSafety has become Premier Christy Clark’s top reason to scrap the Massey Tunnel, and she’s voiced three safety concerns on TV. I’ll ask her about them.

Concern 1: Christy, on Shaw’s “Voice of BC,” you told Vaughn Palmer, “If there was an earthquake of significant size, everyone who was in the tunnel would probably never walk out.” Actually, though, an early warning system was installed years ago to reduce the risk.

After an earthquake, sensors pick up harmless seismic waves that arrive much sooner than destructive seismic waves. As CBC News put it, “The moment the sensor detects the first waves of a damaging earthquake, the tunnel closes to traffic.” Vehicles can’t get in, but the ones already in can head out.

Concern 2: Christy, you told Global News, “There is a vital safety issue in the Massey Tunnel. In ten years, that tunnel will no longer be safe to navigate.” Navigate? You may be conflating the need to refurbish the tunnel in ten years (ventilation, lighting, etc.) with your wish to remove it so a deeper channel can be dredged for larger tankers.

Concern 3: On Shaw and Global, you warned about a major earthquake (magnitude 7.0): “Communities on the other side of the river would be cut off, so we have an urgent safety issue to deal with.” Want a suggestion, Christy? Add a two-lane tunnel tube for transit and emergency services—at high seismic standards. (Many people favour solutions like that.)

Readers, let’s hope this gets the premier’s fears on track. Maybe she’ll add the new tube right away? I also suggest she revive a half-done risk-reduction project.

The Massey Tunnel safety risk is mainly from flooding via cracks. The project’s interior phase, which was completed a decade ago, improved the tunnel’s strength and flexibility to meet a set standard: one hour to get out. The exterior phase was put off to save money.

Thanks to technology advances while we waited, this phase is more valuable than ever. At a hundredth the cost of the touted “Port Metro Bridge”!

It would reduce liquefaction, using the best current methods to keep the tunnel aligned and usable. It would also quakeproof the tunnel approaches/exits, replace crash magnets like the Steveston Interchange, and upgrade overpasses. Vehicles leaving the tunnel would then have a drivable route in emergencies.

But the province has recently disparaged this still-needed phase of the old project. They say a 2007 report indicated “serious concerns the tunnel could shift during the required in-stream excavation and stone columns installation.” Not really. It actually said “low risk of accidental damage” and offered ways to manage it.

Christy, to put safety first, we need an independent, wide-reaching and fast-acting analysis of the safety aspect of the Massey options that the current project and informed citizens propose. That includes the bridge, and my engineer advisor is concerned about earthquake-safety questions the bridge team doesn’t know how to answer.

We do know that earthquakes happen. So Christy, please act today. Thank you!
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This article was published as a Digging Deep column, “I have safety concerns over Christy Clark,” in the Richmond News, August 17, 2016, and as “Premier questioned over tunnel safety” in the Delta Optimist, August 26, 2016.

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