Archive for the ‘Massey Tunnel project’ Category

Safest Massey Thruway Renewal Project

August 22, 2017

Victor Wei, P. Eng., Director, Transportation, City of Richmond, is welcoming community input about current Massey Crossing options. Since the responses from the Garden City Conservation Society (GCCS) are well received, the GCCS has provided a series of three responses:

  1. Massey Options Rationale Sheet
  2. Massey Thruway Renewal Project (MTRP)
  3. Safest Massey Tunnel Option

The Fraser Estuary is trending well

June 14, 2017

There’s a promising trend for the Fraser Estuary, the union of mighty river and Salish Sea that begot the Richmond islands, much of Delta and more.

A citizens group and Ecojustice, along with Surrey and New Westminster, recently took the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to court. They are aiming to prevent the barging of immense amounts of thermal coal through the estuary. While we wait for a decision, we’re spared the hazards of dirty coal, and we can read an informative report here.

Another dire threat from the port is their proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2, a new artificial island of fill in the mouth of the estuary. (Click image for larger version.)
A federal review panel for the Terminal 2 plan keeps asking tough questions—this month with a focus on marine life. I’m impressed.

The port has announced that it’s now less intent on dredging the Fraser ship channel deeper. That may be part of the port’s strategy to get Terminal 2 approved, but it’s also an opportunity to stop harm to the estuary.

(Note: If the port doesn’t have to include the environmental impact of dredging as a “cumulative effect” of projects in the estuary, it has a better chance of getting Terminal 2 approved. After that assessment by review panel, the port could consider deeper dredging again.)

We trust a new government will listen well and sift through the old one’s half-decade of Massey Replacement content to find what’s ideal for transportation, safety and the environment.

They could revive the pre-Christy plan with extra insights.

The “Expanding the Tunnel” graphic shows the essence of it, with the eco-excellent “Green Tube” providing two new lanes.

That and the four-lane “Legacy Tube” would comprise the expanded Massey Tunnel in the Highway 99 corridor.

However, it could be best to place the Green Tube upriver, further east, as a new tunnel.

In that case, it could connect with Richmond’s Nelson Road, which leads into Highway 91, with just a minimal effect on farmland.

Either way, the aim is to increase the transit capacity by two lanes. (The Green Tube may not be directly used for transit but enables it.)

At least to begin with, Rapid Buses are the likely mode, planned long ago.

The Green Tube is the urgent need. Done fast and well, it could initially divert traffic from the Legacy Tube to expedite the many overdue and near-due renovations. (Legacy lanes could close for the work, a pair at a time.)

After the external phase of the seismic retrofit, that would entail refurbishing of the Legacy Tube with a new ventilation system, installing of ceramic tile throughout, renewal of the in-tunnel transmission line, and other refinements.

Beyond the tunnel, the renewal would include the seismic retrofit of highway approaches, as well as better overpasses and interchanges. That is described in the Phase 2 Guide for the Massey Project and shown here. (Click to enlarge.)

I’ve addressed the obvious, but the new government may do better. Perhaps, for example, they’ll work with the port toward extended operating hours that help reduce the route-clogging port traffic at peak hours.

A fast-tracked BC environmental assessment would be great. The previous Massey Replacement assessment seemed to skirt the process, but I picture this one embracing it.

In short, we humans are getting in tune with the estuary. Hurray!

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Notes: This blog includes an extensive Massey Project section.
For an overview of threats to the estuary, see Let the Fraser Live.
Also, have a look at the Garden City Conservation Society’s input to the City of Richmond’s Transport Department about current options for the Massey Crossing, the Massey Options Rationale sheet.

Christy Clark, Andrew Weaver and thermal coal

April 30, 2017

Just before the main election debate for BC party leaders, Christy Clark sent Justin Trudeau a dirty coal letter. Whether or not the two were in cahoots, it is highly political. It seems crafted to save seats in the BC legislature, not BC jobs.

It says, “I am writing you today to ban the shipment of thermal coal from BC ports.”

As an old saying goes, “Who’d have thunk it?”

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Of course, Clark excels at dramatic timing, and she used it to grab the limelight on debate day while prodding Trudeau to do a hatchet job. Still, it is a stunning gambit when a cheerleader for coal, bitumen and LNG turns green.

Clark’s commitment is suspect, but in essence the promise is welcome.

That said, the ban has a cost if Trudeau accepts the mission. It will cost the jobs of Canadians and Americans who mine thermal coal, not just Canadians who ship it.

And Clark vows to enforce it herself if Trudeau falters, using a high tax on exports of thermal coal, even from Alberta. To her credit, at least she is honing her trade-war tactics on nice Canadian neighbours before nipping at Donald Trump to make him behave.

In that vein, Clark implies she has crafted a bargaining chip to combat Trumpian lumber tariffs. However, her ban has left nothing to tempt the Americans to be fair. Perhaps the whole thing is play-acting as an election ploy or bargaining ploy. Whatever else, it is bunkum.

In reality, the American lumber lobby that ceaselessly preys on our lumber sector is anything but playful. If Clark instigates a hostile alliance of US coal and lumber, we might end up with BC lumber shut out of the US market.

Fortunately, American homebuilders want our lumber for their own sake. Also, Canadian companies have hedged by buying into the American lumber industry. That is comforting, but less so for Canadian workers than for shareholders.

Ms. Clark has opened quite the can of worms, which are muddy and tangled and who knows what else. Is there a reset button to push?

Possibly.

With her opportunistic approach to thermal coal, Clark contrasts with the steady Andrew Weaver, leader of the BC Green Party. He has funneled the passion of a values-driven movement into a viable political force. He espouses substance, but his affable nature gives him just enough style.

After the throne speech in 2014, Dr. Weaver proposed an amendment that the government explore all means to “halt the expansion of thermal coal exports in British Columbia.” Sadly, MLAs reacted as party automatons, so Weaver got squelched, 73 to 1. Ouch!

In his post-political way, Weaver stayed collaborative. If more MLAs had stood up for their constituents and aimed for consensus, we could be well along by now.

After all, BC’s grassroots movement that rejects dirty coal is very large and informed, and local governments pitch in. The momentum was free for the taking long before Clark got the impulse to surf it.

In what might have been, the phase-out of thermal coal exports from BC ports would be humming along. Meanwhile, the work ethic of former coal workers would be fueling the new economy, as described in Weaver’s platform. That ship has sailed, but a new cruise is possible, perhaps with a new skipper.

Weaver’s response to the recent Clark letter amounts to support in principle. It means the two leaders are well placed to share expectations and meet them together. Voters willing, they could soon begin with a thermal-coal transition plan, with a focus on jobs but a range of economic and ecological outcomes.

They would best forego any irritating direct linkage with softwood lumber. Instead, our province could take the goodwill from the diplomatic phase-out of thermal coal and bring it into a culture of teamwork with the state of Washington, including joint action to conserve and restore the Salish Sea.

All along, Weaver has known that Clark’s intended George Massey Tunnel removal would, by design, enable a mega increase in BC’s shipping of thermal coal, but he wisely does not cry “Hypocrite!”.

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For alternative views, see the insightful analyses thermal coal export ban promise by Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight and Kevin Washbrook in the National Observer. Smith has also written an enlightening column that, in effect, compared the views of the BC party leaders on the promise.

The NDP has been quiet on this issue. John Horgan has pointed out that Christy Clark had years to act on thermal coal and that Clark’s threats of retaliation are an irresponsible approach to the softwood lumber issue.

Crisis point for the Fraser Estuary

April 10, 2017

Choosing to save the Fraser Estuary and the wild salmon means choosing to expose and repel the Big Lie Technique.

It is epitomized by the “No plans to dredge” mantra in the Massey Tunnel removal issue.

Here’s one more try to combat the Big Lie.

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Imagine yourself on a spring day five years from now. You’re relaxing in the shade with a sunny view of the Fraser Estuary. Out of the blue, you hear an unseen creative power: “Either keep this as the world’s great salmon river or dredge it deeper to lure more shipping. You must choose.”

Of course, that’s absurd. We really can make the choice, but the time to get results is now, not years from now.

The George Massey Tunnel can still be retained, not removed with unmitigated harm to habitat and the nurture and passage of wild salmon—and orcas and more. In five years, we’ll rue bad consequences if we don’t prevent them now.

This is old news, but it may seem new because it keeps getting negated. Whenever the intent to dredge the channel for larger ships comes up, the BC transport minister or a surrogate jumps in to claim “no plans to dredge.”

In truth, the Massey project’s own 2012 discussion guide says the tunnel is “an impediment to expanded trade at Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) and points east along the Fraser River” because “many of the newer ocean-going vessels are too large to pass over the tunnel.” Citizens keep simply stating that truth, but denials fog it.

Documents from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and Fraser Surrey Docks take further the plans to dredge deeper. With the tunnel gone, they would increase the channel depth by at least two metres to suit Panamax vessels and even some Aframax ones, bearing over 80,000 tonnes.

That doesn’t entirely conflict with “no plans to dredge,” since clear intents to dredge may not be “plans” in every sense. However, the mantra is misleading. And the tactic has been pervasive, even when the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) tried to review the Massey project.

The BC EAO report reveals that First Nations groups like the Musqueam, along with many concerned citizens, alerted the EAO about the “larger plan to dredge the South Arm Fraser River to deepen the channel and accommodate larger vessels,” with “industrialization of the Fraser River.” That was promising.

Then, in response, the transport ministry professed to be “unaware of any plans to dredge the river deeper.” And the port authority “confirmed that VFPA currently has no plans to dredge the Fraser River to create a wider or deeper navigation channel.” The EAO got fooled.

In a Business in Surrey article, FSD CEO Jeff Scott, who is forthright, has described a plan to dredge a little deeper with each annual maintenance. That way, the ship channel depth would be at least 13.5 metres deep (a two-metre increase) within five years. It would be wider too.

After tunnel removal in 2022, an influx of larger freighters and tankers would take over the Fraser. But we can still choose to save the Fraser for wild salmon and ecological riches. The last chance is the BC election, May 9.

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For a slide show on the issue, view Let the Fraser Live!

For hyperlinks to the sources in this article, please see the longer related articles on this Garden City Conservation blog.

The “No plans to dredge the Fraser” plan

March 27, 2017

Dredging ship, Fraser River Pile & Dredge

Removal of the George Massey Tunnel to enable deeper dredging could begin the excruciating demise of the Fraser as the world’s greatest salmon river. In my view, truth has been another casualty.

Let’s focus on the government talking point of “no plans to dredge.” Whenever the intended channel dredging for larger ships comes out, the BC transport minister or a surrogate typically jumps in to say “no plans to dredge” or something much the same.

If you followed the Trump election campaign, you know the stratagem. There, it was “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” and “replace Obamacare with something terrific” and “never going to lose.” Mantras got drummed in.

With the “no plans to dredge” mantra in the Massey project, there’s a twist that the project’s 2012 discussion guide (page 11) says the tunnel is “an impediment to expanded trade at Fraser Surrey Docks and points east along the Fraser River” because “many of the newer ocean-going vessels are too large to pass over the tunnel.”

Documents from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (in a 2013 letter to the Massey project director and in the 2013 president’s report) and from Fraser Surrey Docks express proposals to dredge deeper. With the tunnel gone, they would increase the channel depth by at least two metres to suit larger vessels, some over 80,000 tonnes.

One could say that doesn’t entirely conflict with “no plans to dredge,” since intents to dredge may not be “plans” in every sense. Still, the mantra is misleading.

In 2015 the port authority agreed to Fraser Surrey Docks revising its plans for its thermal coal shipping terminal so it could load large ships (at least Panamax). Since they could only reach the terminal after tunnel removal and deeper dredging, it is obvious that both the port and FSD were planning on the dredging.

Later, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) report on the Massey project (pages 122) has revealed that the public and Musqueam Indian Band, among others, expressed concerns to the EAO about “a larger plan to dredge the South Arm Fraser River to deepen the channel and accommodate larger vessels,” with “industrialization of the Fraser River.”

But the transport ministry claimed, in response to the EAO, to be “unaware of any plans to dredge the river deeper” (EAO report, page 123). And the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) “confirmed that VFPA currently has no plans to dredge the Fraser River to create a wider or deeper navigation channel” (EAO page 123).

Since the BC Environmental Assessment Office is toothless in this situation, it had to go along with the ministry’s plea it didn’t know anything and the port’s plea it wasn’t planning anything.

“Plan” or not, the documented proposal is to dredge deeper (and wider) in five annual stages. FSD has proposed to simply dredge a little deeper while doing the annual maintenance of the shipping channel. If the project stays on schedule, with tunnel removal in 2022, that step would enable the channel to be used at the new depth of at least 13.5 metres.

In a further twist, the BC EAO report adds, “VFPA also noted that projects proposing new dredging to accommodate vessels that are larger than what the existing channel was designed to accommodate . . . would be subject to review under VFPA’s Project and Environmental Review process” (EAO page 123).

Translation: “Dredging for larger ships will actually occur after all, and the VFPA (alias Port of Vancouver) will handle the environmental protection.” So the fox gets exclusive rights to guard the henhouse.

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Notes: See “Tunnel removal to deep-dredge the Fraser” for more documentation of the planning for deep dredging of the Fraser River ship channel. See Let the Fraser Live! for an exposé of how the situation came to this. See “Transport minister’s myth-busting mission” for an alternative perspective (different from this blog’s).

Update, September 26, 2017: On the very day of the televised leaders debate for the 2017 BC Election, Premier Christy Clark has suddenly found a reason to ask Prime Minister Trudeau to ban thermal coal exports from BC ports. It aims at the thermal coal from the U.S., and it would especially affect the Fraser Surrey Docks situation. Here’s the Clark-to-Trudeau letter.

Transmission project harms the estuary

March 18, 2017

Last fall, I addressed the Massey transmission line issue on this blog. Electric power lines, secure in the tunnel in working condition, were to be junked. New lines would be suspended over the Fraser from towers 120 metres tall.

Beyond the trees, the rendering shows a grey 75-metre tower and red 120-metre tower for electric-power transmission lines to replace the ones in the George Massey Tunnel.

The effect would be massive clutter, with no evident benefits for Richmond. So Richmond council firmly objected.

But the BC government simply priced the power-line project at $76 million and prodded BC Hydro to go full speed ahead with it. Hydro did as told, even though the consultation guide had said it could start after bridge construction began, if need be.

That same BC government likes to describe how much Richmond has been consulted on this issue and related ones, but consultation without heeding is nothing.

So why the hurry? The Sun’s Vaughn Palmer thinks it’s because “Christy Clark promised after the last election that construction would be underway before the next one.”

It’s that and more. Near-ready towers before Election Day could give voters the impression it’s too late for a new government to revisit the Massey options.

For sure, speeded-up tower work makes it harder to build another tunnel tube beside the existing one, since the tower foundations would block the new-tube route on one side.

On the bright side, it may prompt voters thinking about the Massey project to realize that it’s a tunnel removal project. The key word is “removal.” The intent is to remove what the project has called “an impediment” to bigger ships going upriver and back.

Transporting LNG, they’d put residents of Richmond and Delta at risk with substandard LNG safety. And they’d transport Wyoming thermal coal, via Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD), that US ports refuse to handle.

FSD proposals require that the deep-sea ship channel be dredged to a depth of at least 13.5 metres. That’s at least two extra metres, which is a lot. Channel widening, with still more dredging, would be needed too.

The ecological effects of deep-dredging the 34-kilometre channel each year would be devastating, especially since several other ecologically risky projects are planned or in progress. Only the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project is getting a federal review.

In contrast, the Fraser River Estuary Management Program (FREMP) harmonized the estuary’s ecology, economic development and quality of life for twenty years, and it was bolstered by federal willingness to do environmental reviews.

Then, in 2013, the Harper government handed it over to Port Metro Vancouver, an agent of industrializing—and deadening—the Fraser. That typifies the problem.

The Trudeau government promised to fix the problem. We’ll see.

For now, moving a transmission line from the tunnel to towers may seem like a local detail, but keeping it in the tunnel would have welcome ripple effects for the estuary. And every battle matters in the Fraser’s fight for life.

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This article was also published as a “Digging Deep column” in the Richmond News, March 8, 2017.

How the Massey Project comparison of options was rigged

March 13, 2017

In the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, the supposed comparison of five scenarios (supposed options) was used to eliminate almost all views other than the anointed one, Scenario 2, “Replace Existing Tunnel with New Bridge.” That was done in several overlapping ways, and this column shows how just one of them discredits the process for anyone who can take the time to follow what happened.

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When the project provided five scenarios, they were presumably ways to proceed that were worth considering. The scenario that appeared to receive the most public support was the obvious one. (In the map illustration below, the concept includes an added “Green Tube,” so-named because it is an environmentally friendly method.)

It had been the expected way to expand the tunnel ever since 1955, when the engineering consultants recommended it in the Fraser River Highway Crossing at Deas Island report. That obvious method was to add a tunnel tube in the tunnel corridor to expand the tunnel by at least two lanes. (See page 13 in this excerpt from the 1955 Crippen Wright Engineering Ltd. report.)

The project included that long-intended step in Scenario 4, “Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing along Highway 99 Corridor” (Phase 2 Discussion Guide, p. 2.)

The new tube would apparently comprise two transit/HOV lanes and a multi-use path, in keeping with the Garden City Conservation Society’s proposal based on practical and conservation values.

However, the project then changed the scenario when evaluating and comparing it. In the 2014 MMK report (page 3), we see this:

Retroactively, the scenario had been changed to require the same capacity—ten lanes, etc.—as the project’s preferred one, the bridge. As you can see when you look back and forth, the new wording was thoroughly inconsistent with the scenario stated in the Phase 2 Guide.

A crucial objection to the proposed bridge expressed by Metro Vancouver and many others was that lower capacity would be better, e.g., from standpoints of regional growth and the environment. However, the change that got slipped into the MMK docuement, which got applied to all the scenarios, had the effect of eliminating such ideas from consideration. In one fell swoop, much—perhaps most—of the consultation input to the project was annihilated.

Furthermore, the MMK report made almost no other use of the project’s supposed consultation. There’s a segment that evaluates the scenarios on the basis of  community and regional planning (pp. 25–27), but the bridge option somehow comes out looking good despite the strong opposition of Richmond and Metro Vancouver. (Note: The only other consultation included is with first responders, p. 25.)

This problem appeared again in the project’s application to the BC Environmental Assessment Office which based the related part on “Evaluation of Crossing Scenarios (MMK 2014).” This means that, once again, the project made the excessive size of the bridge a requirement for the other options. That practically precluded the EAO from responding to the environmental harm of the excesses.

The project made the EAO assessment a farce, a huge waste of the taxpayers’ money. This example of supposedly comparing scenarios to choose the best one shows that the project also wasted an incredible amount of good-faith input from Metro Vancouver, local and First Nations governments, and many groups and individuals.

Announcing “Let the Fraser Live!”

March 9, 2017

Fraser Voices is sharing
Let the Fraser Live! 

It is a revealing look at government-allowed incursions on the Fraser River Estuary that are simply killing it. It ends with some solutions.

I have introduced it with “Gambling with Jokers for the Estuary” (below). You can read that or go straight to Let the Fraser Live!

It is an exposé with a positive intent, as expressed in the subtitle: “A plea to governments destroying the Lower Fraser river and Estuary.”

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Gambling with Jokers for the Estuary

Fraser River Estuary

The struggle over the ecological Life or Death of the Fraser Estuary is like a Wild West card game with a treasure on the line. It’s fitting that the form of a just-released exposé, Let the Fraser Live! resembles a deck of cards.

There are 54 cards, not the common 52, because there are Jokers to deal with. That makes the risks and opportunities even wilder.

Of course, it’s our treasure that governments and a power-wielding crown corporation could gamble away. We mild citizens don’t usually go in for gambling, but we’re most likely to lose the treasure if we sit in the shadows and don’t take part.

Fortunately, we get a much better chance to be on the winning side if we quickly study the cardsTo start, click on the word cards at any time. (And maybe save the “cards” PDF to your computer while you’re at it.)

LNG TankerTip: Reading the dozen questions that follow is an option that will likely help you to focus on the cards, if you so choose.

  1. How wide is the swath of Delta and Richmond that might be hit by the rare but explosive effects of an LNG tanker accident in the Fraser ship channel?
  1. OrcaWhat marine life is affected by tankers passing through the Fraser Estuary and Salish Sea?
  1. Why should there have been an environmental assessment about the project to ship up to eight million tonnes a year of U.S. thermal coal through that route?
  1. fox in henhouseWhy are approval processes for risky projects in the Fraser Estuary being likened to putting the fox in charge of the henhouse?
  1. Why do governments and vested interests want to destruct the George Massey Tunnel, which should be good for another 50 years or more?
  1. What did Albert Einstein say that’s worth heeding in this context?einstein
  1. Should we feel sorry for Marc Garneau, who feels powerlessness when confronted by Port Metro Vancouver, which is within his responsibilities as Minister of Transport?
  1. Does Port Metro Vancouver have too much power?
  1. healthy-foodHow does Port CEO Robin Silvester valuing of food security compare with yours?
  1. In view of the Deltaport record in meeting past business projections, is it worth dumping an island of fill into the estuary to double the container capacity?
  1. What else could the Trudeau Government do to deliver on its promise to restore and improve environmental legislation?
  1. Justin Trudeau balancing a baby on one hand. Vancouver Sun photo.What’s a simple way for citizens to have a voice in this?

With you taking part, is there Life or Death for the Fraser Estuary in the cards?

It’s a gamble that should never be happening, but at least you’re making the odds better.

Non-clueless views on the Vanity Bridge

February 22, 2017

Looking to catch a few Massey Issue views, I simply googled Massey bridge. I caught a News 1130 story, “Critic pushes to toll Massey Tunnel, instead of building new span.” Illuminating!

Nathan Pachal, Councillor, City of LangleyTo critic Nathan Pachal’s tolling idea, I’d add the wrinkle of a congestion-scaled toll on trucks—scaling from high tolls at hours when traffic in a direction is jammed to low or nil at light-traffic times. If the Roberts Bank port facilities get opened for trucks to load and unload 24/7, that may be the only toll that’s needed.

Nathan Pachal, who writes the South Fraser blog, is a Councillor of the City of Langley.

I in turn got hooked via News 1130’s Related Stories, taking this bait, “Expert says Massey replacement will cause more problems than it will solve.” Enlightening!

Simon Fraser University Professor Anthony Perl

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Expert Anthony Perl foresees the effect if the bridge gets built:

“It’s going to create more challenges for our region in trying to build the sustainable, compact growth area that people will actually benefit from. That’s a lot harder to fix once we’ve already gone down that path.”

That supports the approach to growth of Metro Vancouver’s planners and mayors. It also agrees with the planners and council of Richmond, which has a lot at stake.

Anthony Perl, PhD, is Professor of Urban Studies and Political Science at SFU.

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Susan Jones, Boundary Bay Conservation CommitteeUpdate, Feb. 22, 2017:
Susan Jones of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee is a thorough researcher of the Massey issue. Have a look at her new analyis: “The over-sized, over-priced bridge does NOT have public support.”

The best indicator of public opinion is the submissions to the BC Environmental Assessment review. Almost all the 446 written submissions showed either support or opposition for the bridge plan. While 96% were opposed, only 4% supported the plan.

Metro Vancouver mayors were opposed too— 21 out of 22.

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Mike HarcourtWhen Mike Harcourt shared his views in the Vancouver Sun and Delta Optimist, his conclusion was evident from the title “Former premier says bridge is a bad idea.” He elaborated by comparing the kinds of approaches Metro Vancouver has proposed with the one being imposed. He wrote:

These ad hoc, unilateral, provincially imposed transportation projects such as the bridge proposed to replace the tunnel are a bad way to address these challenges, a bad way to govern.

Yet, in “Bridge is best option,” transport minister Todd Stone responded:

This is simply not borne out . . . by the opinions of the thousands of consultation participants that took the time to share their views over a period of more than four years.

Any smidgeon of truth to that claim? See the facts from Susan Jones.

 

Smoking gun in the case of the vanishing tunnel

February 20, 2017

smoking gun with the elephant in the roomThis adds to the evidence of the elephant in the tunnel removal room (article below this one).

The George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project’s guide for “Phase 1: Understanding the Need” adds a smoking gun to the elephant evidence.

It calls the tunnel, “an impediment to expanded trade at Fraser Surrey Docks and points east along the Fraser River.”

It adds, “This is because many of the newer ocean-going vessels are too large to pass over the tunnel.” (See page 11, which is PDF page 12.)

After lauding Port Metro Vancouver at length, the guide concludes, “A new crossing provides the opportunity to open the way to new trade expansion locations.”

In short, the project guide touts tunnel removal to enable a deeper channel for larger ships. That’s basically what BC transportation minister Todd Stone keeps denying.

If the tunnel-removal intent can’t stand up to analysis, it should be changed, not obfuscated and forced through the process under post-truth pretences.

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To get a firm grasp of the set of evidence of intentions to deep-dredge the Fraser navigation channel (tunnel removing permitting), read this article too.

Tunnel removal to deep-dredge the Fraser

February 10, 2017

Dredge ElephantMany citizens have addressed BC transport minister Todd Stone’s double-speak about the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, but it’s still crucial to focus on the elephant in the room, the dredging aspect.

Stone recently wrote, “The province will not dredge the river as part of the project.” Of course not! First, dredging is a federal, not provincial, responsibility that is carried out by the Port of Vancouver (PoV). Second, dredging a 34 km navigation channel would obviously not be part of a tunnel-bridge project. (It would, however, be enabled by the tunnel-bridge project.)

salish-seaBeyond the doublespeak, the dredging is a pivotal factor in the threatened future of the Fraser Estuary, as well as the Fraser River and Salish Sea. And facts matter.

Dredging the navigation channel deeper than the current 11.5 metres—for safe clearance above the tunnel—has long been proposed. The proposals go back to at least 2006, in the Pacific Gateway Strategy Action Plan(See page 20, which is PDF page 32.)

Along with that, PoV has been sure since September 2012 that deeper dredging would entail removing the tunnel. (Adding depth by dredging the protective layer of sand above the rock ballast and tunnel was known to be unsafe by then. See Deep Dredge Appendix 1.)

In April 2013, a letter from the PoV CEO to the Massey Project’s executive director urged “Replacing the tunnel with a new crossing that allows larger vessels to access industrial sites along the river.” (See Deep Dredge Appendix 2.)

Jeff Scott of Fraser Surrey DocksFraser Surrey Docks (FSD) operates the main Fraser cargo terminal, and FSD CEO Jeff Scott is clear: “We’ve proposed a five-year project, which would take us to 13.5 metres in steps over that period” (Business in Surrey, June & July 2013—see Deep Dredge Appendix 3).

Robin Silvester, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority CEOThe October 2013 PoV President’s Report by CEO Robin Silvester (Deep Dredge Appendix 5)) says 13.5 m would enable the fleets for dry or liquid bulk (dilbit, LNG, US thermal coal, etc.) “to transit the river fully laden.” That would include Panamax vessels of up to about 80,000 deadweight tonnes (DWT) and some Aframax vessels, even larger.

Since the other rationales for a bridge are weak, tunnel removal is the likely reason it was chosen.

We desperately need an independent review of the costs and benefits of all aspects of the proposed tunnel removal, including triggered proposals like the deep dredging. That includes ongoing economic cost and the deadening ecological cost of battering the estuary.

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Additional appendixes with supplementary information:

Deep Dredge Appendix 4, from a research report by Douglas Massey, includes a key insight in the bottom paragraph. It refers to a meeting of Feb. 2,2012 to plan a strategy for removal of the George Massey Tunnel. The participants (BC government Port Metro Vancouver, Fraser Surrey Docks, etc.) are listed in the second paragraph. The final paragraph includes Port Metro Vancouver’s response about the channel depth needed for the larger ships they envision going past the tunnel location: “the depth should be 15.5 m over 50 years and 18.5 over a 100 year period.”

Deep Dredge Appendix 6 is from the Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum 2015 report. The described “Fraser River Deepening Project” implicitly requires removal of the tunnel. Port Metro Vancouver would have some way to say the project to dredge the channel isn’t a plan to dredge the channel, but any reasonable person can see clear intent to dredge the channel (after tunnel removal).

Deep Dredge Appendix 7 is a letter from the Port of Vancouver (a.k.a. Port Metro Vancouver” and “Vancouver Fraser Port Authority”) to the BC Environmental Assessment Office, which had asked about Fraser River dredging related to environmental assessment of the “proposed George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project.” In the three-page PoV letter, the relevant thirteen words are on the second page, with my yellow highlighting added. PoV wrote: “The port authority currently has no plans to create a deeper navigation channel.” They can play semantic games with “currently” and “plans,” but contrasting truth is that PoV certainly had the intent to do it. The reality is that the answer was very misleading

____________

Update, Feb. 16, 2017: Here is the full George Massey Tunnel Replacement project application to the BC Environmental Assessment Office. That’s 4418 pages of PDF! I find it simplest to refer to the PDF page numbers. Roughly 27 times, the application claims that “the Ministry is unaware of any plans by others to dredge the river deeper.” Unless the Ministry wears a blindfold and ear plugs, that must be false, as shown in this article (including the appendixes). 

Since the application shows that roughly a dozen Indigenous groups had expressed concerns about related dredging, the invalid consultation includes all of those groups (along with many other parties). For details, search for “dredging” from around PDF page 2248 on in the application.

Update, Feb, 20, 2017: See also “Smoking gun in the case of the vanishing tunnel,” the article above this one.

Re Massey: Time to “incorporate local advice”?

November 5, 2016

With the recent Richmond News letter from BC transport minister Todd Stone (Oct. 25), I gained new admiration for the City of Richmond. Mr. Stone told us that his surrogates in the Massey Project have met with the city “111 times.” But the letter showed he hadn’t heeded.

His project remains stuck in a 1950s reaction to a 2016 opportunity, which his letter called “the worst bottleneck in the province.” The city, with firm support from Metro Vancouver and its staff experts, keeps pointing out it’s no solution to shift the bottleneck north—or pour twice as much traffic into it.

A few months ago, the Metro Vancouver board rejected the province’s mega-bridge plan. What’s more, the region’s mayors were almost unanimous, and they provided clear advice that the province is not following. Yet the Stone letter ends with a promise to “continue to incorporate local advice.”

massey-twinRichmond suggests adding a two-lane tube to the tunnel to enable a rapid transit lane each way. (That concept assumes the province would also finish the half-done seismic retrofit and add near-due refurbishing.) Once a BC Liberal concept, it’s now pretty much a consensus concept, with wide support from informed citizens.

My previous article titled “Is the Christy Clark Bridge the best way”  prompted Mr. Stone to write his letter. My article is consistent with the concept I’ve just described, but his letter ignores it. Similarly, the Massey Project has found ways to keep ignoring that alternative for years.

The Stone letter showed one of those ways. Under the guise of a response, it argued against a tunnel that would somehow cost more than the bridge. But sky-high tunnel expense only applies to the project’s 10-lane tunnel-gone-wild “option,” which no one seems to like.

That unloved mega-tunnel “option” is not even possible in the Massey corridor unless the existing tunnel gets removed first. The mega-tunnel is really just a straw man, posing as the alternative option so the mega-bridge seems less bad.

massey-twinLet’s get back to the “twinned” Massey Tunnel, an actual alternative to the proposed mega-bridge. As depicted at right, the refurbished four-lane Legacy Tube would be flanked by a new two-lane “twin” tube. It’s the green line I’ve labeled “Green Tube” because of gentle impact on nature.

(Or should it be called the Eco Tube, with “Eco” meaning “Economical” and “Ecological”?)

Tube-name game aside, the true alternative would also require related transit action such as a big increase in Canada Line capacity. While getting people to their destinations via pleasant and efficient trips, it would then be as useful for a liveable region as the misfit bridge is harmful.

Also, it would save billions.

For now, we need Minister Stone to keep his recent promise to us and “incorporate local advice.” As first steps, he could acknowledge the genuine alternative and consider it.

To the City of Richmond, best of luck in this surreal encounter.

_______

This article also appeared as “Your tube could be Eco Tube . . .” in the Richmond News of Nov. 2, 2016.

Trudeau gov’t favours dirty U.S. coal, not our agriculture and eco-rich river?

October 13, 2016

Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, Canadian Minister of Agriculture“Port development trumps agriculture: federal minister MacAulay” says the headline of Country life in BC, October 2016. It adds, “Senior level of gov’t has the right to exclude BC farms from land reserve.” Breathtaking, like a sucker punch to the solar plexus.

A bit of relief begins with the date of his comment, September 12, two weeks before Steveston–Richmond East MP Joe Peschisolido hosted Hon. Lawrence MacAulay (right), along with many Richmond citizens, at Richmond Country Farms  on September 25. MacAulay is Agriculture Minister in the Trudeau government.

As far as I can tell, Joe Peschisolido is trying hard to represent his constituents. When Joe introduced me to the minister, I tried to share a little related insight (with little response), and Joe told me later that he had turned that into an opportunity to explain our Richmond/BC perspective.

So far I’ve seen no tangible result, but I’m still hoping that something is in the works, especially since the threat of deep dredging of the Fraser River ship channel is so closely tied to the still-absent federal environmental assessment of the “Port Metro Bridge” project.

I’ll share the main part of the Country Life article below and then an outstanding letter to the minister and others from Susan Jones of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee and then a link to an also-excellent Stephen Rees blog post.

clife_lmacaulay

Here’s the letter from Susan Jones to the minister, prime minster et al.:

Federal Liberal Government misled by Port of Vancouver misinformation

It is alarming that the new Liberal Government of Canada is being completely misled by the Port of Vancouver.  

It is difficult to believe the statements by the federal Minister of Agriculture, Lawrence MacAulay in reference to B.C. agricultural land protected by the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve: “Lower Mainland farmland could be sacrificed to ensure agri-food exports can move to market quickly and efficiently, federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay told Country Life in BC” (“Port Development trumps B.C. agriculture: federal minister MacAulay, Country Life in B.C., October 2016).”

Canada wants to increase export-ready agri-food exports to China and other Asian countries.  It is ironic that the Port of Vancouver claims it needs to industrialize Canada’s best farmland in order to export agricultural products.

There is no evidence to support the claim that we need to industrialize farmland.  This is a ploy by the Port of Vancouver to expand its real estate holdings which will enrich the crown corporation and associates.  It has nothing to do with sensible port business.

Exporting agricultural products has been, and continues to be, important to the Canadian economy.  It can continue without using the precious 5% B.C. farmland.  

The largest increase in agricultural exports is wheat and other grains, which are being accommodated by a new massive grain terminal in North Vancouver.

In terms of processed foods, which were stressed in the article, Vancouver exported 20% more tonnage in 2010 than in 2015.

Fraser Surrey Docks is a wonderful terminal with a large stretch of industrial land which is ideal for the export of specialty crops and processed foods.  The current plans for funneling dirty US thermal coal through this great site are uneconomical and a waste of our precious port lands.             

The Prime Minister and federal Ministers of Agriculture, Transport, Natural Resources, Environment, Fisheries, and Trade don’t seem to be aware they are being duped by the Port of Vancouver.  Isn’t it time to stop listening to paid lobbyists and old guard civil servants and advisors? 

Isn’t it time to listen to public concerns about protecting the ecosystems of the Fraser River delta which interactively support the world’s best salmon river, Canada’s rich farmland, and Canada’s Most Important Bird Area for shorebirds, waterfowl and birds of prey?

For further insight, see Stephen Rees’s blog post, “Port development trumps agriculture.”

Is the Christy Clark Bridge the best way?

October 11, 2016

Christy Clark’s “vanity bridge” adventure is hurtling the wrong way. Can anyone save the day?

Superman? Batman? Richmond?

Christy Clark Bridge

Richmond can! Council’s Harold Steves, Malcolm Brodie, Carol Day and Linda McPhail have enlisted Metro Vancouver and other allies. With public support, they’re striving to get through to our premier or, if necessary, the next one.

As well, they’re seeking a federal environmental assessment. It’s crucial and urgent.

But a change requires an alternative. Luckily, a prior BC Liberal government developed a better plan than Christy’s.

To begin, the BC Liberal plan assumes the seismic upgrade of the existing Massey Tunnel will be completed. (A decade ago, the upgrade stalled after the internal phase, leaving tunnel users at undue risk until the external phase gets done.)

The external seismic upgrade will stabilize the ground around the four-lane legacy tube—the existing tunnel—and its approaches. It should benefit from advances in methods in the lost years, as well as insights from recent seismic analysis for bridge purposes.

Beyond that, the plan envisions an added two-lane tunnel tube, better interchanges and overpasses, and an extensive transit strategy.

The transit aspect features a high-capacity Rapid Bus route on Highway 99 between White Rock and Bridgeport, with a dedicated lane each way for “clean energy buses” and emergency vehicles.

Shoulder bus lanes have gradually appeared along the highway. The present need is for many more buses, along with related transit action such as a big increase in Canada Line capacity. That would reduce car use, freeing road space for other transport.

The new tunnel tube will be placed in a new trench, a little east of the legacy tube, though still seen as part of the Massey Tunnel.

The new tube will have to be installed in time to replace the legacy tube when it undergoes major renovations, closing a pair of lanes at a time. After that, there’ll be six good lanes.

By now, it’s apparent that Christy Clark’s bridge adventure would cost more than stated, but even the stated $3.5 billion could fund the BC Liberal plan very well with a couple of billion to spare. (No need for tolls!)

As well, preempting the cost overrun of the Christy plan could enable seismic retrofit of the B.C. schools that still need funding for it. That might save many families from tragedy.

Also vital: While the Christy plan would assist deep dredging of the Fraser ship channel, the BC Liberal plan deters it. That averts severe harm to the river’s ecology, including already-stressed salmon runs, and to the river delta’s agriculture, including Richmond’s.

It’s time to move on from the “vanity bridge,” a towering symbol made of folly.

The alternative, the dusted-off Liberal plan, is feasible, and it will enable efficient cross-river trips. If they’re pleasant, reliable and safe for all kinds of users, that will be success.

“Massey bridge” screams for independent review

September 20, 2016

For me, George Massey Tunnel replacement problems such as defiled estuary, misused billions and traffic constipation multiply and merge like a nightmare interchange.

We can thank Richmond staff and council—and Metro Vancouver too—for addressing the mega-problem. We can thank the Massey Project and MLA John Yap for illustrating it.

Model of Steveston Interchange if a bridge replaces the tunnel between Richmond and Delta. Photo courtesy of Richmond Councillor Carol Day.

Above, a photo of a Massey Project 3-D model looks south where Steveston Highway meets Highway 99 in 2022, a few billion dollars from now.

Years ago, ahead of its time, the province came up with a much simpler Steveston Interchange redesign than that. I liked it and featured it in an April 2013 “Digging Deep” column. It would have quickly paid off in traffic safety and commuter time saved.

john-yapThat brings us to the Yap precept in a recent Richmond News column: “To do less than replace the tunnel would shamefully and irresponsibly risk the safety of daily commuters.”

Mr. Yap unwittingly implies that Premier Christy Clark is shameful and irresponsible.

How’s that? As late as November 2012, Mr. Yap applauded the premier’s announcement of “the start of work to twin or increase the capacity of the George Massey Tunnel.” (That’s from a John Yap “Constituency Report,” a Shaw TV service to let MLAs showcase themselves.) His comments conveyed that Ms. Clark was not set on removing the tunnel.

Strangely, he didn’t call her irresponsible for that. Later, he stayed silent when the Massey Project’s “Exploring the Options” phase offered four options that are “shameful” by his suspect standards. (All four require seismic upgrades, which he calls “not possible without the risk of damaging the tunnel.”)

Three years ago, the premier announced her choice. To no one’s surprise, it was the fifth option, a big bridge. A few months ago, she began listing safety above congestion as the top reason for the choice, with lots of hype and not much substance.

Looking back, I keep wondering why Mr. Yap didn’t act years earlier to spare us from “irresponsible” thoughts about keeping the tunnel. He was already an MLA when a 2007 report supposedly indicated “serious concerns the tunnel could shift during the required in-stream excavation and stone columns installation” to enhance the tunnel.

Why “supposedly”? When I checked the 2007 report, it said “low risk of accidental damage” (low, not serious) and offered ways to manage it. I mentioned that weeks ago in a column that debunked the safety-scare tactics. As I said then, “we need an independent, wide-reaching and fast-acting analysis of the safety aspect of the Massey options.”

And the project continues to need a federal environmental assessment by a review panel. It’s vital for conserving our vibrant Fraser estuary. I mention it now because we’re being distracted from seeking it.

To end on the bright side, let’s be glad our Richmond and Metro leaders are acting with real vision.

______

Update, Sept. 21, 2016: Mr. Yap’s guest column has already drawn a scathing response from a Richmond citizen, Amy Brooks. InBC Liberals’ bridge trumps our children” in today’s Richmond News, she writes, in part:

My question is, wouldn’t seismically upgrading schools in the Lower Mainland also provide construction jobs, as well as making where children spend a quarter of their day actually safe?

Massey transmission needs federal review

September 13, 2016
gmtt-towers-3

BC Hydro’s rendering of two future transmission towers, 75 and 120 metres tall, carrying high-voltage power lines over Deas Island Regional Park and then over the Fraser to another 120-metre tower (not shown) in Richmond. The view looks northeast toward a rendered Massey bridge.

“I am deeply concerned about the overhead transmission lines. What are the health risks? How would it affect the viewscape?” Those comments from Carol Day, a Richmond councillor, stemmed from a Richmond News article, “BC Hydro reveal plans to reroute power lines from a decommissioned Massey Tunnel.”

The context: In Hydro’s illustration, the two transmission towers fading behind a tree would be on the west side of Deas Island Regional Park, near the south and north shores. Transmission lines would hang between them.

From Deas Island in Delta, the lines would be suspended over the Fraser River to a third tower on the Richmond side. It is not depicted, perhaps so it won’t be noticed until it rises higher than a 37-storey building.

My response to the concerns: There was a long struggle in Tsawwassen about electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from high-voltage overhead lines, with possible links to problems like leukemia. If towers start dangling high-voltage lines over the park, there won’t be much left of viewscapes and viewers.

As a recent Metro Vancouver report puts it, “The proposed bridge and the associated BC Hydro transmission relocation project will . . . create permanent noise, debris and visual impacts.”

Sensibly, the City of Richmond has insisted that the towers are the worst option for a transmission route. Despite “consultation” with Richmond, Metro and a few citizens, Hydro has stuck to the decision it started with.

An engineer who took part in the consultation as a Delta resident tells me it’s safe and easy enough to lay transmission cable “within a box girder on, under or above the bridge deck.” For Hydro, though, it’s cheaper to quickly build separately—with no careful cooperating—before people catch on.

To Hydro: To save a thousand times as much, stop Site C. Or, to help enable a transmission cable under the riverbed, get Port Metro Vancouver to not dredge the ship channel two (or more) metres deeper.

The urgent need is for a federal environmental assessment, preferably by review panel, to address the overall impact of the Massey project, including Hydro and Port Metro aspects. It would have teeth, unlike the feeble B.C. assessment that ignores such aspects.

Our best chance is to support the powers who care. That would involve Metro Vancouver and at least one Member of Parliament with influence in Ottawa and a belief in action for the nature of the Fraser.

___________

This article was also published in the Richmond News as a Digging Deep column, “Transmission lines plan needs review,” September 7, 2016.

Some premier tunnel-safety tips

August 17, 2016

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!
______

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.

The Port Metro Bridge is a dubious gift

January 27, 2016

Richmond Council has resolved that it “prefers a new or improved tunnel rather than a new bridge.” That would give priority to Richmond needs in the misnamed “George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project.” (Most of its scenarios wouldn’t replace the tunnel.)

Garden City Conservation agrees with council. After thorough research, we’ve proposed action that features an added two-lane tunnel tube on the upstream side within the tunnel corridor.

At first the new tube would take traffic from the existing tunnel to enable efficient renovation. Later, the tube would enable better transit, possibly as light rail. The most likely use for the tube would be two new northbound lanes so that the six-lane tunnel could have a bus/HOV lane in each direction.

At least the project seems ready to finally improve the Highway 99 interchanges. But it ignores the remaining part of an earthquake-readiness project that’s been unfinished since 2007. At that time, the first of two planned stages—strengthening joints between tunnel segments—was completed.

The second stage, at a similar cost, was planned to increase stability, limiting the risk of earthquake liquefaction. However, the project leader tells me the process is itself too risky. That’s odd, since it was included in the project’s three tunnel/bridge “scenarios” that retained the existing tunnel.

The reality is one way or the other. One way, the sand and silt supporting the tunnel in the riverbed can in fact be stabilized so that it’s safer in an earthquake than pretty much any structure in the area.

The other way, the public was consulted on five options when three of them had been ruled out, leaving only the bridge and an unfeasible replacement-tunnel scenario. In that case, the bridge had been chosen from the start.

To clear up the confusion, the project should fund independent expert studies about the level of earthquake safety after all steps to improve it.

Dredge ElephantThis brings us to an elephant in the room. Bridge promoters swear that Jumbo isn’t there, but he smells a lot like Port Metro. It has trumpeted for years about a deeper channel for larger ships after the tunnel is removed.

“As a federal body here at Port Metro Vancouver, we have supremacy,” said its president recently. The supreme leader will soon be dredging if the bridge is built. It could be aptly called the Port Metro Bridge.

The deeper ship channel would lead to heavier waves, more erosion and a bigger flood threat. The salt wedge, ocean water, would flow further up the channel. Irrigation water that Richmond farms obtain from the river (via pumping stations and the ditch system) would become too salty.

On the bright side, if we’re stuck with the bridge, we’ll get a lovely westbound off-ramp to Steveston Highway, zipping us from the bridge to the No. 5 Road stoplight car-jam. For only $3.5 billion.

Or some of those billions could go to better transit.

________

This article also appears as a “Digging Deep” column in the Richmond News of January 27, 2016.

 

Tunnel vision and seismic upgrades

October 31, 2013

This was published in the Richmond Review as “Tunnel visionback on August 7, 2013. It is just as timely now, as we enter November.

__________

Re: “Not all Metro Vancouver mayors back new Fraser River crossing,” July 31.

Surrey mayor Dianne Watts is right. Her reported views combine seismic upgrades and “bolstered transit” for the Massey Tunnel.

As discussed in my “Why tunnel action should start right now” column a few months ago, only the internal stage of the seismic upgrades was ever done. However, even the province’s “tunnel replacement” project accepts the value of the other stage—the external one to stabilize the ground around the tunnel and approaches.

The ongoing non-action on that second stage of seismic upgrades puts tunnel users at pointless risk every hour of every day. It was to be done eight years ago, so our MLAs and council should be able to make a compelling case that we’ve waited long enough.

The new Steveston Interchange, planned with design improvements 22 years ago, remains important too. But at this rate we’ll be waiting for another 22 years for actual action. Unless the earthquake comes first.

Bridge for Port Metro or MasseyPlus for us?

May 4, 2013

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

As you may recall, the Massey Tunnel liquefaction upgrade and the new Steveston Interchange were meant to happen long ago. The tunnel “replacement” project is a chance to get them done.

The project is also a chance to go back to the future. In 1955, ’91 and ’95, there were comparative studies of bridge and tunnel options for the South Arm highway crossing, also known as the Fraser Valley highway crossing at Deas Island. For the first way to add to the crossing, all three studies came to the same answer: add a two-lane “tube.” Still makes sense!

Note: The structure of the Massey Tunnel is an “immersed tube,” but it’s seen as a pair of two-lane tubes. The third two-lane tube would be a bit to the east but still in the Highway 99 corridor and conceptually “Massey Tunnel.”  To keep it simple, let’s see the enhanced tunnel as MasseyPlus.

Let’s say it goes ahead. It’s quick and smooth to add the third tube, which replaces the older tubes in turn while they’re refurbished. Within four years from start to finish, the six-lane MasseyPlus is serving well.

It’s seismically sound and excels in bad weather. It’s great for ecology, agriculture and appearance. It limits traffic noise and greenhouse gas.

It also enables a flexible future. If need be, for instance, a fourth tube can be added later.  As the 1955 study shows, being able to add like that can even save money.

Circular tube tunnel design from the 1955 Crippen Wright Engineering preliminary study for a Fraser River highway crossing at Deas Island

That thorough study favoured a circular tube structure (see sketch, which shows steel tube clad with concrete). The rectangular structure we got is fine too, but the dug-out shore where its sections were made is now the BC Ferries upkeep cove. I’m told that shipbuilders’ drydocks can be used instead, at least with the circular design.Fortunately, circular tubes withstand external force best, with good effects for strength and cost. A current version of what’s shown might work for MasseyPlus.

In any case, the Garden City Conservation Society board supports adding two lanes for better transit. The mode can be light rail, buses or HOVs (high-occupancy vehicles). If it’s reliable, pleasant and economical to use, it will prosper.

In contrast to MasseyPlus, the slug’s-pace scenario that caters to Port Metro Vancouver would demolish the tunnel after building a megabridge above it. And Mayor Malcolm Brodie has pegged the price at $3.3 billion or more.

High bridge clearance would combine with deepened channel to let big ships go east. But the tunnel isn’t the shallowest point in the channel, which would have to be deep the whole way to distant docks. Imagine the dredging!

As megabridge users, we’d be hit with endless tolls to fund the means to port sprawl, with total waste of Massey value. And Port Metro would have more cause to buy up Agricultural Land Reserve farmland for its port land bank, as it did in Richmond with the fertile Gilmore Farm.

We’ve endured the tunnel non-action for too long. We don’t deserve zero-gain waste. We do deserve MasseyPlus.

__________

More notes:

  • My father was a partner in Crippen Wright Engineering, which did the 1955 study, including this 1955 Crippen Wright comparative study of the bridge and tunnel options for the Fraser River highway crossing at Deas Island. The link is to part of the final volume in a set of studies that is three inches thick.
  • For further reading, I recommend “The George Massey Tunnel saga” on Voony’s Blog.
  • This article is also a Richmond Review column.

Why Massey Tunnel action should start now

April 16, 2013

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.

_____

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

More about tunnel “replacement” scenarios

April 2, 2013

The Garden City Conservation Society board of directors strongly agrees with Scenarios 1 and 4 (with qualifications) in the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project “Exploring the Options scenarios. Both of those options maintain the existing tunnel. There are only advantages to that. There are no major disadvantages on the basis of what the public can learn so far.

There’s an online feedback form for this until at least the end of April 2, 2013.

This excerpt from the Phase 2 Guide lists the five scenarios:

Massey Tunnel scenarios

Scenarios 1 and 4 both maintain the existing tunnel. There are only advantages and no real disadvantages.

The only known reason for replacing the existing tunnel is to deepen the channel to allow larger ships up the Fraser River. However, that is supposedly not a goal of the project, and the conservation effects of it are not good ones. Here are some quick comments prompted by supposed reasons that don’t stand up to examination:

  • The earthquake preparedness of the existing tunnel can be upgraded to the point that it would out-survive most of the buildings and infrastructure on either side of the river. (At least that’s my conclusion after consulting a reliable engineer.)
  • Along with the earthquake upgrading, the tunnel will need internal upgrades for ventilation, lighting, etc., apparently in ten or fifteen years. However, since the tunnel “tube” is made of concrete, which gets stronger with time, the tube (essentially the tunnel) is getting better, not worse. All the refurbishing that is needed would be easier to accomplish, and less expensive, than building a new structure.
  • On balance the tunnel is relatively safe, even though it should never have been built without an emergency-access route (essentially a sidewalk in each tube). If the tunnel is completely replaced, it will most likely be by a bridge, which is less safe in icy and foggy conditions. Since the project engineer envisions steep approaches, that will be especially problematic with snow and ice.

One of the greatest needs is for the new Steveston Highway Interchange, as proposed 22 years ago. That would stop backups in the tunnel, especially northbound ones, since Steveston Highway Interchange backups in rush hour can block the only northbound lane, bringing all traffic toward Richmond and Vancouver to a halt. That plus the effect of about 10-20% of the tunnel traffic diverting via the new perimeter road (in Delta) will greatly reduce congestion, and it could be all that is needed.

However, we do want to strongly encourage transit, including every possible way to enable reliable rapid crossing of the Fraser River on the Highway 99 route. To enable that, we see an additional two-lane crossing on that route.

Personally, I see a new two-lane tube. It would include sidewalk, with a firewall between sidewalk and traffic, with firedoors, probably with sealed fireproof windows. It would be up to a hundred metres east of the existing tube, still within the corridor, which is quite wide where it meets the river.

As a board of directors, we have not ruled out a bridge with the same capacity for the transit purpose. However, it is making less and less sense as more factors come to light:

  • It seems counter-intuitive to have rising approaches ascending toward a 211-foot-high bridge crown next to flat-to-declining approaches.
  • It also seems shortsighted to build one structure above the other when they have different life expectancies. The new bridge over the old tunnel might have to be removed first, since tunnels have much longer lifespans, but the removal would be awkward either way.
  • The lifespan aspect also has a huge cost effect, making a bridge vastly more expensive on an annual basis than a tunnel of the same price because the tunnel construction cost can be spread over so many more years.
  • From the standpoints of noise and aesthetics, the tunnel method is better in this location, and there is no reason to give up those advantages either.
  • Also, the tunnel construction takes a much shorter time, and the environmental assessment would likely be simpler.

The existing tube is rectangular, but the new one could be circular (but with a rectangular traffic route), and one of the advantages is that the sections can be built in a shipbuilding dry dock before being floated to the trench and immersed. That would limit the impact on the Delta/Richmond shores. It also happens to be less expensive because, as the preliminary report on options way back in 1955 stated, “The external loads on the tunnel can be carried more efficiently by the circular shape.” (It’s over 57 years later now, but the basic physics principles wouldn’t change.)

Since our focus is on an optimal choice for transit, the new tube should be suitable for either light rail or buses. (If it is ever used for light rail, the eventuality would probably happen later.) For buses, the two lanes for that purpose would not necessarily be the new ones, although a reason in favour of that is that the wider lanes would be good for buses, wide vehicles that need to travel fast safely.

Since buses don’t necessarily require sole use of a lane in each direction, two suggestions I’ve heard are (a) to make the bus lanes also HOV lanes or alternatively (b) allow toll-paying trucks in the bus lanes. In both cases, that would need to be monitored so that the HOV or truck use does not in any way impede the bus flow. It also should not limit the possibility of eventual light rail use.

We continue to believe that the new tube should initially be used to replace one two-lane side of the existing tunnel at a time while all forms of upgrading are done on that side. That way the existing tunnel will be better than new for health and safety, and the whole six-lane tunnel, all either new or better than new, could celebrate its opening after that. If the planning is committed to the sorts of values being advocated, this grand opening would be a celebration of a leading-edge set of priorities in keeping with the values of Delta and, increasingly, Richmond.

Later, when the new tube is available for transit purposes, it might well be that transit would actually use one lane on each side of the Highway 99 corridor.

Since we also strongly support safety (conservation of human life and wellbeing), the ideal approach would be to always have four lanes in one direction and two lanes in the other direction, with the centre lanes behaving like the counterflow lanes in the current operation. This would eliminate the fear (and occasional reality) of head-on collisions in a tube with lanes flowing in opposite directions.

A final detail: All of this should be done in a way that allows for the possibility of another two-lane tube being added on the west side of the Highway 99 corridor at some future time, although we basically hope it won’t happen. Of course, the intent if it does happen could be to enable a dedicated emergency lane and a lane dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle/rolling use, and maybe the future will evolve to the point where a scenario like that would be considered.