Building a new bridge to replace the George Massey tunnel is critical to reducing congestion on the Highway 99 corridor, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson argued Friday before a skeptical Metro Vancouver board.
But she failed to derail a board motion that passed demanding the province prove how the megaproject will respect the regional growth strategy and other regional objectives, like improving air quality and access to public transit.
Jackson called the premier’s September announcement a new bridge will be built “long, long overdue” and insisted the corridor is congested because of truck traffic that can’t be put on transit lines.
She said congestion has also worsened due to increasing traffic from the U.S., South Surrey/White Rock, the Tsawwassen ferry terminal and more will come when the Tsawwassen First Nation opens a planned major destination shopping mall.
She rejected arguments a new bridge may spur more traffic and pollution.
“When you’ve got four miles of traffic sitting their puffing for hours on end I don’t think that’s a good air quality situation,” she said, referring to long lines to get through the tunnel in each direction at peak times.
Jackson argued Metro planners failed to understand the justification for the project and wanted the issue referred back to staff to consider studies prepared by Delta.
Richmond Coun. Harold Steves said a second tube for transit could easily be dropped in the Fraser River beside the existing tunnel to carry light rail transit from Richmond to Surrey and White Rock.
He predicted a rapid transit alternative along Highway 99 will be stalled for a decade or more under the province’s plan.
“If you put in a toll bridge for cars they’re not going to want public transit on it until they pay for the bridge.”
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the region will never build its way out of congestion by adding more lanes of road.
“It sells well in the suburbs, but the problem is you can’t bring more cars into Vancouver.”
He said the strategy of trying to carry still more traffic into a plugged urban core also runs counter to the regional aim of placing new destination amenities South of the Fraser to shift the focus away from downtown Vancouver.
The Metro board motion also directs staff to investigate the business plan for the new bridge, the role of the port in the decision and the effects of other Gateway Program infrastructure, like South Fraser Perimeter Road, which will soon be fully opened.
Metro directors also called on the TransLink board to give its analysis of the ramifications of expanding the crossing, with an examination of both tolled and non-tolled scenarios.
Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal, chair of Metro’s environment and parks committee, said there’s also concern about impacts to Deas Island Regional Park, which would be in the shadow of the new bridge.
She said shoreline habitat will be threatened if the channel is dredged to open increased shipping up the Fraser towards Surrey.
Deal said it appears that would enable a proposed coal export terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks that Metro has already opposed.
Metro’s board also voted to have staff more closely study a proposal from the Port Alberni Port Authority to develop a container port there and send barges up the Fraser River.
Jackson doubted the concept would work but other directors see it as offering potential to get more trucks off the region’s roads and move freight on the river without the need for a new bridge or removal of the tunnel.