Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he was pleased to hear the provincial government has put the brakes on construction of a 10-lane bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel.
“The current government appears to be listening to our concerns that we’ve been expressing over and over for the last four to five years,” said Brodie.
On Wednesday Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena said the NDP government will instead be proceeding with an independent, technical review of the Highway 99 crossing.
“We’re trying to get the social license from the Metro Vancouver communities.
“We got the sense there was not a thorough business case, a thorough look at all the options,” said Trevena, noting all but one regional mayor (Delta) opposed the bridge largely on grounds that it ran contrary to regional mass transit plans.
The Ministry of Transportation said the review will include input from mayors and “will focus on what level of improvement is needed in the context of regional and provincial planning, growth and vision, as well as which option would be best for the corridor, be it the proposed 10-lane bridge, a smaller bridge or tunnel.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry will cancel existing groundwork being conducted on Highway 99, which has already tallied $66 million.
However, the Ministry noted work completed to date, including groundwork to widen the highway north and south of the tunnel, is expected to be utilized regardless of which option is ultimately chosen.
Brodie said he wants the Ministry to consider a twinned tunnel (eight lanes), which is estimated to cost nearly as much as the $3.5 billion mega bridge but leave hundreds of millions of dollars for public transportation.
Considering cost is no longer a significant difference between a twinned tunnel and bridge, Brodie said the remaining advantages of a twinned tunnel are that it remains an impediment to future port development up the Fraser River by restricting deep haul ships and that there is no visual impact to the community. Furthermore, a scaled back eight-lane crossing would not leave such an imposing interchange at Steveston Highway nor would it eat into a public park nearby.
Both proposals do still leave a bottleneck at the Oak Street Bridge and they do not include immediate light rail plans. Furthermore, development of farmland — a concern of many Richmond councillors — on either side of the Fraser would be assisted by either option, conceded Brodie.
It is unclear if Trevena plans to be more forceful and forthcoming than her Liberal predecessor with light rail plans along the corridor.
Coun. Ken Johnston was one of two councillors to previously vote at council in favour of the bridge but said he welcomed the review, unlike Coun. Alexa Loo.
But Johnston is concerned about the timeline and further delays.
The former Liberal MLA also said the initial consultation process was flawed.
Johnston said light rail is a “more sensible solution” over the next 10-20 years and “should have been addressed initially.”
Meanwhile, Rieghardt van Enter, Regional Director, BC, for the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, expressed “disappointment” that the project was cancelled.
“Most companies in the procurement process have been on his for several years,” he said, noting upwards of 2,000 jobs are delayed now.
Trevena hopes the review is complete by next spring. But then further planning must be done, she noted.
Van Enter said the association had no opinion on the apparent flawed consultation process that led to the procurement process.
“From an overall construction perspective, we cannot speak of how the project came to be,” he said.
Trevena said two final bidding contractors will be paid up to $2 million to help offset their expenses to date.