Photo by Chung Chow
VANCOUVER — British Columbia's government is putting a $3.5 billion bridge project on hold while an independent technical review is done to determine the best option for replacing a Metro Vancouver highway tunnel.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the congested George Massey Tunnel connecting Richmond and Delta on Highway 99 under the Fraser River is a roadblock to a strong economy.
She said the review would consider whether the previous Liberal government's plan for a 10-lane bridge would be the best option or if the solution is a smaller crossing, repairs to the existing tunnel, a twinned tunnel or a combination of those ideas.
Trevena said the Liberals didn't have "buy-in" from mayors and people who live and work in the region, and that "social licence" is needed to proceed with any replacement project.
"The sense was that there was not a thorough business case or a look at all the options," she said in a conference call Wednesday.
"The feedback on the 10-lane bridge I heard was very strong opposition from many, many quarters."
A timeline for the review has not been established, but Trevena said it would consider technical work already done on the project that has cost $70 million so far, including for site preparation that involves uprooted trees along the highway.
Companies that began work on the bridge will be compensated and a new process would start following the review, she said.
"The procurement terms allow for the teams to be compensated for up to $2 million to cover for a portion of their costs so that is going to be up to $4 million," Trevena said of the money that's included in the $70-million price tag.
Then-premier Christy Clark announced the construction of the bridge before the 2013 provincial election, and the New Democrats, who took office in July, said they would review the project.
A statement from Liberal Opposition members said they are concerned that the government is cancelling the project and putting the safety of commuters at risk in order to protect its political agenda.
"This is an unacceptable delay for those who travel through the tunnel every day," said Delta South member of the legislature Ian Paton in a statement.
"This will cost taxpayers millions right now and likely billions when the NDP realize a new crossing, a bridge, is needed."
Richmond city council has urged the province to stop any plans for a bridge, saying it would impact agricultural land and worsen traffic north of the route at the Oak Street Bridge connecting commuters to Vancouver.
Instead, Richmond has called for a twinned tunnel that would also include pathways for cyclists and pedestrians, the same as what was proposed for a bridge.
However, Delta has made its case for a 10-lane bridge, saying that while the existing tunnel has been seismically upgraded, it wouldn't withstand an earthquake beyond 6.5 magnitude.