Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“Tunnel needs replacement: expert”

with 6 comments

Richmond News

It almost beggars belief, but when Canwest is the organisation that is delivering the news, do not expect anything like objectivity. Once again the astroturf group “Get Moving BC” manages to get more column inches than any of the real citizen based, grass roots organisations opposed to freeways do. And for a proposal which is way beyond any stupidity that has so far been visited on this region. They trot out Patrick O’Connor as the author of the report – and claim he is an “expert” – but an expert in what?  According to their own web site “The report itself was put together by a volunteer, Patrick O’Connor”
– but I still cannot find out why he might be considered to be an “expert”.

So how does the calculation get made that an eight lane bridge is needed? The tunnel currently carries 21,864 vehicles daily – so in 24 hours it moves on its 4 lanes (each has 2,000 vph capacity) rather less than three times its hourly maximum capacity. Or in other words for most of the day outside the peaks it is quite adequate. The problem of the tunnel is that more than two lanes feed into it – just like the Port Mann Bridge. On the Richmond side long line ups form along Steveston Highway because the traffic from that road plus Number 5 Road is trying to squeeze itself onto the two lane overpass which is the controlling influence on the Highway 99 intersection. The queues regularly interfere with the Steveston Highway /No 5 Road intersection. Simply replacing that two lane overpass – needed since the Riverport development opened up – would do a lot to resolve that issue. When many lanes funnel down into one or two, you need storage capacity that does not block movement in other directions. That is what is wrong on the north side. On the south side the queues are long but simply tail back through the 99/17 intersection which continues to work.

But any bridge here would need to have enough clearance for ocean going vessels – so it would be at least as high as the Alex Fraser with similar long ramps on either side. That is a lot of ALR to give up, and an incredible blot on the landscape. Just looking at the Google map it looks like the north side ramp would not touch down until Francis at least.

I expect that the calculation made by this “expert” is simply to double what is there now. Though why the tunnel has to be removed as well is beyond me. A four lane bridge and a four lane tunnel would do the same thing and at half the cost. But the congestion relief would be short lived. There has never been anywhere that I can find that has successfully conquered traffic congestion by building more roads. Indeed in the same piece it is pointed out the two track Canada Line bridge will provide the same people moving capacity as a ten lane road bridge. Indeed this is the nearest thing to “balance” that is achieved – talking to Councillor Rob Howard, who is not an expert either, just a local politician who sat on a committee once and may have read some reports.

And of course what our expert at Get Moving BC does not say is where all this newly induced traffic is going to go. Obviously, the demand on local streets will be intolerable. But not to worry they are sure to come up with all sorts of proposals to build ever wider arterials. That’s the good thing about advocating road expansions. It never stops, because traffic always fills up the space available thus creating the “need” for more.

Peak oil? Impact of vehicle emissions on us or our climate? Promotion of yet more suburban sprawl across the ALR? Not a word.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 8, 2008 at 1:18 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Although it has been retrofitted, I for one, always breathe a sign of relief that there hasn’t been an earthquake whenever I have finished transitting the tunnel. Recall that the tunnel is a series of precast segments sunk into the river bed and joined end to end.

    Ron C.

    October 8, 2008 at 5:20 pm

  2. I think the tunnel would be safer than a bridge in an earthquake. That being said, who us this so called expert with get moving BC?

    Malcolm J.

    October 8, 2008 at 6:38 pm

  3. I disagree with Malcolm’s comment. You have a tunnel designed in the 50s, decades prior to any realisitic seismic considerations in the building code despite any upgrades that are possible only on the inside surface.

    Cable stayed bridges are very flexible, and the foundations would be supported by many clusters of piles driven to deep bearing soils. With the tunnel, all you need is one big crack from a moderate quake and the Fraser would pour in.

    That doesn’t mean I support the idea of an elevated LA freeway for personal chariots, but would support a bridge that accommodated a minimum of two lanes for transit and a maximum of six lanes.

    Here’s a radical thought: build a multi-modal transit-only bridge and keep the tunnel for cars and trucks. It would be thin and elegant and not at all like the Alex Fraser white elephant.


    October 10, 2008 at 4:20 pm

  4. “multi-modal” and “transit only”? So it has both buses and trams/trains in the same lane – as well as bikes and pedestrians each in their own lanes on the side of course. With viewing platforms at the piers so people can stop and enjoy the view.

    Yeah, I could go for that.

    Stephen Rees

    October 10, 2008 at 4:28 pm

  5. Dear Mr. Rees: We’ve noticed that you use the word “stupid” (and its variants) an awful lot in your writing — typically with reference to those who don’t share your viewpoint.

    We believe that solving the Lower Mainland’s transportation and traffic congestion problems requires improvements to all aspects of our transportation infrastructure: roads, bridges and transit. All three are needed in a balanced transportation system and Get Moving BC advocates for improvements to all of these.

    Except for the single lane added to the Port Mann Bridge in 2001, the last major expansion of bridge infrastructure in the Lower Mainland was the six-lane Alex Fraser Bridge which opened 22 years ago in 1986.

    Back in 1986, the GVRD’s population was 1,443,019 with another 155,063 people living in the Fraser Valley Regional District for a total Lower Mainland population in 1986 of only 1,598,082 people.

    Today, Metro Vancouver (GVRD) has an estimated population of 2,293,438 with an additional 279,486 people living in the Fraser Valley Regional District. That’s a total current Lower Mainland population of 2,572,924 – a 60 percent increase in the Lower Mainland’s population in just 22 years.

    Has our road, bridge and transit infrastructure increased by 60 percent over that same 22 year period? No, they haven’t. And because we have not stayed on top of our infrastructure needs we are now suffering extreme levels of traffic congestion primarily caused by bottlenecked water crossings like the Port Mann Bridge and the Massey Tunnel.

    Talk to anyone who uses the Massey tunnel on a regular basis and you will discover that there is widespread public support to replace the 50 year old tunnel (and its four meagre lanes) with an eight-lane bridge with an HOV/transit lane in each direction. Most people would support such a bridge and we should start planning for it now. Even your own correspondents have indicated they would not want to be stuck in the Massey Tunnel during a major earthquake (something we’re long overdue for).

    Solving the Lower Mainland’s transportation and traffic congestion problems requires improvements to all aspects of our transportation infrastructure: roads, bridges and transit. All are important in a balanced transportation system.

    Thank you.

    Get Moving BC

    Get Moving BC

    October 19, 2008 at 3:42 pm

  6. Well, as Forrest Gump always says “Stupid is as stupid does”.

    Building more roads cannot cure congestion. This has been established for many years. The propensity to drive is directly related to the perception of ease of travel. The population could remain the same and the amount of traffic would increase as the same number of people decide to make more and longer trips – which up until this year they did.

    The combination of a sharp spike in oil prices and a declining economy produced a result not seen in many years – a reduction in vehicle kilometres travelled.

    What is “balanced” about spending billions on new roads but starving transit of essential operating AND capital funds at a time when it is over capacity and facing increasing demand? Why decide to dedicate each additional 3m wide strip of tarmac to carry around 1500 persons per hour when it could easily can 10,000 per hour? Why invest in more infrastructure for fossil fuel vehicles when electric powered public transport will still be available long after the oil is no longer affordable (which looks like happenning sooner rather than later)? Why build highways and encourage sprawl when we have very little land on which to grow food and a pressing urgency to reduce our dependence on imports?

    This region does not need another road. We have plenty of capacity if only we use it properly. There are unused and underused railway tracks too.

    The stupidity is trying to persuade us that you care about “transportation and traffic congestion” when your real agenda is promoting low density development in the suburbs. And thinking that you can represent yourself as a “grass roots” group when in reality your connections to the BC Liberal Party and promoting the current provincial agenda have been established and public knowledge for a very long time.

    I also notice that nowhere in your polemic do you refer to the most pressing problem of our time. You seem to be stuck in a time warp. We need to get CO2 emissions down to 350ppm – and very quickly – or we will lose most of the low lying land of the world – including the Fraser delta. Building more roads and freeways will negate whatever small progress your party’s carbon tax may bring us. And meanwhile we will have lost a number of species, much habitat, the best carbon sink in the region and some essential farmland. All in a vain attempt to ignore the inevitable.

    That sounds like a pretty good definition of stupid to me. I can think of other words too. But stupid fits neatly a refusal to acknowledge that the process by which these decisions were made was deliberately designed to prevent rational analysis.

    Your proposals will of course enrich your supporters – the people who make concrete, sell cars and tires, develop subdivisions and sell houses. But that will be a very short term gain indeed – and our children will inherit a world which has been made unoccupiable by humans. And, so far as I can see, the chances of us getting another one are infinitessimal. We already consume enough resources to require 3 planets, and very soon the developing world will catch up to us. Having a nice big SUV and a freeway to drive it on will be of very little use in a few years time. We have the chance – for a very brief time – to change course and reverse the present feedback systems fueling increasing global warming. Your proposals do nothing positive in that regard and and that ground alone must be rejected.

    Stephen Rees

    October 19, 2008 at 6:04 pm

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