Digging Deep column: New bridge a ‘Jumbo-sized’ issue

The “Port Metro Bridge” is a dubious gift and 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.) 

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The Garden City Conservation Society 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 bridge 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. 

This brings us to an elephant in the room. Bridge promoters swear that “Jumbo” isn’t there, but he smells a lot like Port Metro Vancouver. 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, Robin Sylvester, 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.

Jim Wright is president of the Garden City Conservation Society.

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