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Vancouver’s George Massey Tunnel – consulting engineers weigh in

The Government of British Columbia is pondering what to do about the George Massey Tunnel, a key artery in Metro Vancouver that crosses the south arm of the Fraser River on Highway 99 from Surrey to Delta.


The Government of British Columbia is pondering what to do about the George Massey Tunnel, a key artery in Metro Vancouver that crosses the south arm of the Fraser River on Highway 99 from Surrey to Delta.

The tunnel, which was completed to great acclaim in 1959, sits about 20 kilometres south of Vancouver’s downtown. It has become severely congested, with traffic backed up to 1.5 kilometres at rush hours. Its other problems are that it does not meet today’s seismic standards, though it is safe and had a seismic retrofit in 2006. It also has no shoulder lane for vehicles to pull over, and no provision for pedestrians or cyclists.

The government estimates that the tunnel has 10 to 15 years of useful life, so it is in the process of consultations to figure out what to do.

Its first round of consultations invited input from the community to find out their needs and opinions. It drew over 1,100 responses and resulted in an independent report authored by Lucent Strategies that was published in March 2013.

The second phase of consultations was concluded in April and the report is still due.

In the meantime ACEC-BC, the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-BC, has been weighing in. Keith Sashaw, the association’s president and chief executive officer, wrote an article in the Vancouver Sun on August 14 reporting on input from ACEC-BC members. Sashaw said that in their opinion, “maintaining and upgrading the existing George Massey Tunnel with no increase in capacity should not even be considered.”

He said that the members were concerned that any option should be considered in terms of overall regional planning, noting, for example, that if ships with drafts of more than 14 metres are permitted to enter ports along the river, then it could be a factor in considering a tunnel.

Sashaw also explained that among the ACEC-BC members, there “was considerable interest in keeping the existing tunnel and twinning it with a new bridge. It was suggested that the existing tunnel could be a core-collector/distributor system distributing local traffic, and the new bridge could then be the core system for longer distance travel. This would require an additional North Arm crossing …” He also noted that they realized that tolling or regional road pricing strategies need to be entered into the equation.

From the Stage I consultations with the general public it emerged that what most people want from whatever strategy is chosen is an end to the congestion, with 82% selecting this as one of their top three priorities for any new plans. People also wanted a visionary long-term solution, had a sense of urgency to move forward, and wanted rapid transit to be part of the new solution.

A few members of the public suggested that the existing tunnel should simply be rehabilitated or widened with an adjacent tube and that the government should instead spend money on improving transit or other traffic flow improvements.

The existing tunnel was the first in North America to be constructed using immersed tube technology, whereby six precast concrete segments were constructed in dry dock, then sealed and sunk. The crossing was originally called the Deas Island Tunnel, but was renamed after George Massey in 1967 in recognition of the driving role that the provincial politician had played in getting it built.

To visit the BC Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure website on the project, click here.

To read Keith Sashaw’s article in the Vancouver Sun, click here.