Metro Vancouver regional district directors have voted to ask the federal government to conduct its own environmental assessment of the province’s proposed bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel.
The only opposing vote Friday came from Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who is a strong defender of the $3.5-billion highway improvement project and denounced what she called “myths” circulated by opponents.
Metro’s letter to Ottawa warns the 10-lane bridge is a “major expansion of car-oriented infrastructure” that brings significant potential adverse environmental effects, such us undermining the regional growth strategy, as well as potential damage to bird and salmon habitat in the Fraser estuary. It also accuses the province of ignoring potential climate change impacts.
Metro vice-chair Raymond Louie said the regional government is legitimately concerned about specific impacts on Deas Island regional park, and on Metro water and sewer utility lines that cross under the river.
Other critics argue the new bridge would merely push the existing bottleneck up Highway 99 to the Oak Street Bridge, while making it easier for Port Metro Vancouver to dredge the Fraser River and increase shipping.
Jackson cited provincial estimates that carbon emissions from vehicles on the corridor will be cut 70 per cent by the project because they will spend much less time stuck idling in congestion.
“A new bridge doesn’t automatically mean additional traffic,” she said, noting much tunnel traffic starts or ends in Richmond, not Vancouver.
An additional environmental review beyond the assessment the province is already leading would be a major extra hurdle for the project and could put it to tougher scrutiny.
Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr said Ottawa should run its own review because it has jurisdiction over both fisheries and the port.
“Certainly the fisheries do stand a chance to be affected,” Carr said. “I think they do have not only the right but the obligation to proceed.”
Transportation Minister Todd Stone has rejected the idea of a federal review, saying federal government departments are already involved in the provincial review.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency previously concluded the project is essentially a highway upgrade that doesn’t trigger a federal review, but Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna could order one anyway.
Minister for TransLink Peter Fassbender addressed the Metro board earlier Friday and was questioned about the province’s choice of the Massey project as B.C.’s top priority for federal infrastructure funds.
Fassbender assured Metro directors the province does not intend for any Massey grants from Ottawa to come at the expense of federal grants for transit expansion in Metro Vancouver.