A review of major projects across the province by the BC NDP government is casting doubts on a variety of infrastructure projects formerly tipped as indispensible to keeping provincial infrastructure in step with growth. While the need for new infrastructure isn’t doubted, the kind of infrastructure – and its cost – is getting a second look from the NDP, which says that projects such as the replacement of the Massey tunnel will cost more than they’re worth. Projections peg the cost of a massive new bridge to replace the 58-year-old tunnel that links Richmond and Delta at $3.5 billion, or about $1 billion more than the initial estimated cost of replacing the Port Mann Bridge. When carrying costs are thrown in, the project would ultimately cost taxpayers nearly $12 billion, the NDP says.
It’s simply too much for a project that’s expected to add a mere $325 million per year to the region’s economy by 2045 and save $100 million annually in costs associated with congestion.
While work continues on widening Highway 99 through Delta and Surrey, the lack of additional capacity at the Fraser would force vehicles through a corset rather than a crossing.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Lois Jackson, mayor of Delta, which is home to thousands of workers heading north of the river, primarily to Richmond, each morning and is also the municipality with the greatest volume of large-scale industrial development in the Lower Mainland. “People are loath today to have to find a job that takes them over a bridge or through a tunnel – especially the tunnel.”
According to a report earlier this year from Colliers International, Metro Vancouver has 34 centimetres of highway per resident – less than almost every other major urban centre on the continent. This helped win it a fourth-place spot in North America on the TomTom Traffic Index for road congestion. While blacktop for the sake of blacktop isn’t the answer – Calgary, with three feet of blacktop per capita, is no picnic to drive, even though it ranks 32nd on the TomTom index – location definitely matters.
With the growth of industrial space in Delta and Surrey, but just 3.6 kilometres of highway for every million square feet, it’s tough to access markets quickly – a problem that will only worsen without better infrastructure.
“Commercial businesses are experiencing a direct impact to the efficiency of delivering goods and services via the Massey tunnel as a result of insufficient capacity and additional demands on the Alex Fraser Bridge as a result of the transferral of traffic from the Port Mann,” said Jarvis Rouillard, vice-president of PCI Developments Corp. and president of commercial real estate association NAIOP’s Vancouver chapter.
NAIOP, which represents commercial real estate developers, owners and investors of office, industrial, retail and mixed-use properties, “not only supports but understands the necessity of replacing the Massey tunnel with a new bridge,” Rouillard said.
Should the NDP axe the project, the cancellation will further funnel economic activity into the existing east-west traffic corridors either side of the Fraser. The existing crossing is a memorable experience but, Jackson said, “it’s not an incentive” for either tourists or logistics companies to traverse the region.
“It would be an incentive to have a better, smooth-flowing ability to get your trucks north of the river,” Jackson said. “It opens the door to a lot of companies, like [Beedie Development Group], for instance, and others who find it very attractive here.”
The Tsawwassen First Nation, which is both the oldest resident community south of the Fraser and the region’s newest municipal entity, will work with whatever crossing materializes. But Chief Bryce Williams said a bridge would make life easier for everyone.
“We’ll be successful on this side of the Fraser because we have a lot of great developments on the go,” Williams said, but emphasized that the status quo isn’t working. “There needs to be a solution to alleviate the traffic problems. We look forward to seeing what that solution is.” •