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NDP cancels construction on George Massey bridge project

Rob Shaw

New Massey Bridge conceptual design. (Submitted photo)

New Massey Bridge conceptual design. (Submitted photo)

VICTORIA - B.C.'s new NDP government has cancelled the current construction schedule for a new George Massey bridge, and is sending the project to a technical review.

Transportation Minster Claire Trevena said Wednesday that an independent technical review of the project is expected to be completed by next spring, at which point the government will decide whether it wants to build a new bridge, fix the existing Massey tunnel or twin the tunnel. Something has to be done to address traffic congestion at the site, eventually, said Trevena.

"We haven’t made any decision on what is the best way forward, we need to be open to any recommendations that are provided to government by the review," said Trevena.

The decision effectively ends the previous Liberal government's plan to build a $3.5-billion, 10-lane, toll bridge to replace the aging Massey tunnel between Delta and Richmond. The government had said the existing tunnel was old and unsafe in the case of an earthquake.

"We’re not going back to square one, we're going back to a thorough consultation with the community," she said.

The government has cancelled a procurement process to design, build and finance the project. The province had a deadline to pick one of three short-listed firms in October. Trevena said it was not fair to the companies to continue that process.

“We really needed to free them up to allow them to bid on other projects while we do an independent review," she said.

The NDP campaigned in the election on reviewing the bridge, but did not commit to either cancelling the project or continuing work.

The previous B.C. Liberal government had announced the bridge in 2013. "A new bridge will improve travel times for transit, commuters and commercial users, and open the corridor up to future rapid transit options," then premier Christy Clark said at the time.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson has been supportive of the new bridge, arguing the existing tunnel is dangerous and responsible for traffic congestion.

But the rest of Metro Vancouver's mayors, including Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, have complained the expensive bridge project is not the region's top transit priority and will simply encourage more vehicle traffic. A new or improved tunnel is their suggestion. The mayors have also argued the money could be better used elsewhere, such as replacing the aging Pattullo bridge, which the NDP also promised to accelerate replacing during the election.

"The previous (provincial government) was entirely focused and stubborn about their approach to this situation," Brodie said Wednesday. "So I’m very pleased that a group has said stop, we’re going to have a proper review of this situation, work with the various parties… and come up with a better solution."

Richmond has advocating twinning the tunnel.

Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore praised the NDP announcement. "It's exactly what Metro Vancouver regional district called for," he said. "We acknowledge there's a traffic issue along that corridor and something needs to be done, but the scope of the 10-lane bridge was too big and they needed to work with local governments around the whole region, including Metro Vancouver, to find the appropriate solution."

Moore said he was "happy on behalf of the board" about the NDP review, and was confident the provincial government would include local mayors in the review.

B.C. Hydro recently said it was calculating what it would cost to cancel its part in the multi-billion project, which includes moving the transmission lines from inside the existing tunnel to a proposed overhead line near the new bridge. Hydro has spent $25 million to date.

So far, $66 million has been spent on engineering work, geotechnical work, public consultation, land procurement and site clearing, including work for the widening of Highway 99 as part of the bridge project, according to the Ministry of Transportation.

These contracts wrap up in September and then there's a pause until Oct. 24. That's the deadline to pick the winning proposal among three shortlisted companies to design, build and finance the bridge. The unsuccessful companies get $2 million each. Not awarding a contract by that date means paying $2 million each to all three shortlisted companies, plus starting the bidding process anew if the government later decides to go ahead with the bridge.