A report aims to cut through the politics to inform the public and change minds about the George Massey Tunnel replacement project, shown here in an architectural model that sat in the lobby of Delta’s Municipal Hall. James Smith photo

Delta imploring B.C. government not to delay George Massey Bridge

Delta cites serious safety concerns and potential economic impacts of delaying or cancelling project

The Corporation of Delta is urging the new provincial government to proceed with the construction of the bridge to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel “as soon as possible,” citing severe risks to public safety.

On Thursday, July 5, Delta released a report titled “The Public Safety and Economic Imperative for the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project” from the office of Chief Administrative Officer George Harvie that outlined the need for the new bridge and the work that has been done to date proving the project’s viability.

The report’s purpose is to ensure “the general public and decision makers associated with the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project are acutely aware of the serious safety concerns associated with any potential delay in replacing the George Massey Tunnel with a bridge,” the report says. “The potential for a catastrophic failure of the tunnel is real, supported by many professional engineering reports, and any failure of the structure could have potentially devastating public safety and economic impacts for the entire region.”

Although preliminary work on the new crossing has already begun, the recent change in government has brought the project’s future into question. Both the BC NDP and Green parties, who took the reigns of power in Victoria after Christy Clark and the Liberals were defeated in vote of non-confidence June 29, were less-than-supportive of the project during the election campaign.

While the Liberals pledged to go ahead with construction of the 10-lane Massey Bridge, the NDP said it would defer to Metro Vancouver mayors, who have been unanimous in their opposition to the project save for lone holdout Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.

The Corporation’s report aims to sway public opinion in support of the new bridge and change the minds of provincial politicians and Metro Vancouver mayors.

The report highlights several safety concerns surrounding the existing tunnel, including likely damage or potential catastrophic failure in the event of a significant earthquake.

Although seismic upgrades were completed inside the tunnel in 2006, the work was intended to make the intake of water through cracks slower so the public could escape. Emergency pumps are expected to keep the water level low enough for people to exit the tunnel within an hour of the earthquake, but the structure would likely be unusable from that point forward.

The report highlighted more immediate everyday safety concerns as well. The George Massey Tunnel has a higher-than average number of accidents, and those tend to be more severe than ones on open roads. The tunnel and adjacent interchange saw an average of 300 collisions annually between 2009 and 2013, 40 per cent of which resulted in injury or death.

Congestion in and around the tunnel coupled with the lack of a shoulder can make it difficult for first responders to reach accidents, sometimes forcing them to approach the site on foot while carrying all the necessary gear.

The design of the tunnel’s sprinkler system leaves it vulnerable to damage from large trucks. According to the report, the tunnel’s sprinkler system was damaged twice between June 23 and July 1, 2017. The second incident rendered the entire system inoperable, leaving the tunnel with no sprinkler or standpipe firefighting capabilities. As of the writing of the report (July 5), the system was still down. The Reporter has been unable to confirm if this is still the case.

The report is set to be presented to council on Monday, July 10.

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