Province application for the Massey bridge needs work

October 21st, 2016
by Vicki Huntington

Most people in Delta South support a new crossing to relieve congestion at the George Massey Tunnel, as do I, but since public consultation began, residents have had concerns about the way the government has handled this project. Unfortunately, the government's current application for an environmental certificate presents the latest in a series of problems.

Earlier this month, my office wrote to the provincial government to highlight information gaps and unfounded assumptions about the project's effects on traffic, agriculture, wildlife and the community. You can read my full submission to the Environmental Assessment Office at www.vickihuntington.ca/blog/masseysubmission.

Many of my concerns centre around both the government's traffic projections, and the lack of progress on a regional tolling policy review that was promised three years ago. I have repeatedly pressed the transportation minister to honour his promise to undertake that review, only to hear the same response: "There is plenty of time to talk about regional tolling."

I disagree. And Metro Vancouver mayors disagree. A Massey bridge toll could cost South Delta commuters more than $1,000 annually. It will affect not only how much traffic there is at the new bridge, but how much of it diverts to the heavilycongested Alex Fraser.

This is especially concerning because many businesses on Annacis Island are already affected by traffic congestion, and some are considering packing up shop in search of greener pastures.

With the proposed Massey bridge in place, the government's own application says we can expect an extra 33,000 vehicles a day at the Alex Fraser by 2045. So the situation is set to get much worse.

A regional tolling plan, with reduced tolls on all bridges, would change almost every component of the government's application for the Massey bridge, including its projections for traffic, noise, greenhouse gas pollution, effects on agricultural land and impacts on local wildlife. The government argues that it looked at the effects of an un-tolled Massey bridge as a "worst case scenario" to be cautious.

But that misses the point. The government's application shows traffic estimates for the tolled bridge are about 40,000 vehicles a day lower than one with no toll. That's more than half of the tunnel's existing daily traffic, so it is vital that we have clarity on what the tolling framework will actually be.

Changing the flow of tens of thousands of vehicles a day will have critical consequences for our community and surrounding areas.

The central justification for the new bridge has always been to reduce congestion. But in the government's entire 4,400-page application, it never makes a credible case that the bridge will relieve congestion, in large part because it has neither a regional tolling plan, nor estimates for how such a plan would actually impact traffic flow on the Massey bridge and other Metro Vancouver crossings.

What we're seeing is a piecemeal approach to a regional problem.

I find that unacceptable, especially when we're talking about billion-dollar decisions. We need to know that a $3.5-billion bridge is going to do what the government says it will, not just shift the problem somewhere else.

Originally published in the Delta Optimist