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

Fraser Voices

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That is the name that a small group, unified its opposition to megabridge Massey Tunnel replacement project chose for itself last night. The forces of No once again facing up to the deceptions of the Christy Clark government.


There are two contributions from that group this morning. The first is the GMTRP brief draft prepared by Nicholas Wong – a substantial document that may get some updating and, if it does, will get replaced by later versions over time. For now here is the first paragraph of the Executive Summary, which should convince you it is worth your time to read the whole thing: the brief deals only with the traffic, seismic, and pricing concerns and thus leaves a whole raft of issues unexamined

The GMTRP has been plagued by contradictory or absent information. In such an environment, it is impossible to form an educated opinion of the project. To explore the systematic nature of the political deception surrounding the bridge proposal, three broad areas were explored: traffic, seismic safety standards, and budgetary concerns. The conclusion being that removing the GMT is unnecessary and a poor economic choice to alleviate traffic congestion or to address any of the stated project goals. The only advantage to removing the GMT is to allow larger ships up the Fraser River indicating that the tolled crossing is designed as a subsidy for the export industry.

The second is the text of a report which was adopted by the Richmond Council General Purposes Committee last Monday and will go to Richmond Council for final vote this coming Monday.

To: Mayor and Council                                                            Date: February 10, 2016

From: Harold Steves                                                               File: 10-6350-05-08

Re: George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project

Richmond Council is concerned about the abrupt change in direction from upgrading the George Massey Tunnel to building a bridge. Richmond Council was fully consulted on the publicly announced plan to twin the tunnel. Richmond Council was not consulted on the decision to change the plan to building a bridge.

The following attachments show how the project changed abruptly from a tunnel to a bridge:

1) July 15, 2004 Massey Tunnel seismic upgrade. Province to spend $22.2 million on seismic upgrade for the Massey Tunnel.

2) Feb. 16, 2006 Twinned tunnel part of Victoria’s long-term plan, “expandingHighway 99 on both sides of the tunnel from four lanes to six.”   “The project is on the back burner in part because it would put pressure on traffic bottlenecks to the north requiring expansion of the Oak Street and Knight Street bridges into Vancouver or a new bridge into Burnaby.

3) Feb. 18, 2006 Massey Tunnel will be twinned and “widened from four lanes to six once the provinces more pressing transportation projects are complete.”  “Twinning the tunnel would also require improvements to other crossings over the North Arm of the Fraser, such as Oak Street and Knight Street bridges, or a new crossing to connect with growing central Burnaby.”

4) Dec 11, 2008 BUS LANE WILL SPEED TRANSIT commute along Highway 99  with ” high quality, point to point service … between White Rock and Richmond. A “$4.7 million contract” was awarded “to build the four metre wide shoulder bus lane.

5) Feb. 2, 2012 “BC Government meets with Port Metro Vancouver, Surrey Fraser Docks and Engineers to plan George Massey Tunnel Replacement Bridge”

6) Nov. 19, 2012 “Clearances for potential new river crossing” “We should consider future terminals. For example liquid bulk tankers, with large air draft requirements(e.g. LNG)” ….. “We need to consider future terminals such as VAFFC, Lehigh, and possible terminal at our Richmond properties.”

7) Dec. 4, 2012 “Tunnel: Depth required is 15.5 metres below geodetic datum for 50 year life expectancy and 18.5 metres below for 100 year life expectancy.”

8) March 19, 2015 The 14 billion transit plan the BC Liberals conveniently forgot.

9) Nov. 5, 2015 Stone insists Massey bridge process is proper.

The Province spent $22.2 million on a seismic upgrade on the Massey Tunnel in 2004, announced the tunnel would be twinned in 2006, and announced rapid  bus in 2008. Studies were done that justified twinning the tunnel and improving public transit. It was noted that the carrying capacity of the Oak Street Bridge and other bridges was limited and therefore the tunnel should only be six lanes. Rapid Bus would reduce traffic and reduce GHG’s. Richmond Council was opposed to both a No. 8 Road Bridge to Delta and a bridge to Boundary Road in Burnaby because it would do irreparable damage to Richmond East farmland. The Rapid Bus system resolved that problem.

What caused the province to suddenly change from a tunnel with public transit to a bridge without it?
The FOI information from Doug Massey shows a concerted effort was made in 2012 by Fraser Surrey Docks and Port Metro Vancouver and others to have the tunnel removed to accommodate deep draft Panamex supertankers. The BC Government met with them to discuss tunnel removal on Feb 2, 2012, future terminals at VAFFC, Lehigh and a new one in Richmond, including liquid bulk tankers (e.g. LNG); and the need to dredge the river to 15.5 metres on Dec. 4, 2012.  Secondly the more conservative members in the Liberal Caucus appear to have gained control in the 2013 election.

On Nov 5, 2015 Todd Stone admitted that they did not yet have a business case for a bridge, Now the reason is clear. It appears that the  province changed their plans to permit the industrialization of the Fraser River by Port Metro Vancouver. They did not have a business plan for a bridge because the business case was for twinning the tunnel and providing Rapid Bus.


That the City of Richmond request that the Provincial Government provide copies of all reports and studies – including but not limited to business plans, feasibility studies, technical studies, seismic studies, and/or environmental impact studies – that relate to the original plan to twin the George Massey Tunnel and/or provide Rapid Bus service that were considered during the period from 2006 to 2008; and that if necessary, that the foregoing request be made as an official Freedom of Information request.

The report attracted no attention at all from the Richmond News, but a great deal of media attention is being paid to the Metro Vancouver decision to ask for more time to consider the proposal

Written by Stephen Rees

February 19, 2016 at 11:24 am

Posted in Transportation

7 Responses

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  1. Considering liquefaction of the deep alluvial soils during a big earthquake, I wouldn’t have thought the existing or a new tunnel would last. What would keep them from leaning over, or sinking further into the bottom, being that the concrete structures would be very heavy? A new bridge would have pile-supported bases where the piles are driven very deep in an angled circular array.

    And to think the NDP support the thermal coal export terminal to protect all 20 or so jobs.


    February 19, 2016 at 12:56 pm

  2. Thanks, this is a bad project and your blog is helping to establish that fact.


    February 19, 2016 at 1:00 pm

  3. @MB you might be right: what we do know is that there was a program of seismic upgrades underway and the BC Liberals stopped that part way through but long before the announcement of tunnel replacement. Interestingly many proponents of the bridge are suggesting that the tunnel be retained for future light rail – but of course that would get in the way of the Port’s desire to dredge a much deeper channel all the way from the sandheads to Surrey Fraser Docks. You can also be pretty sure that if there were seismic studies of the tunnel coming to the same conclusion they would have been released. Unlike the business case which remains a secret.

    Stephen Rees

    February 19, 2016 at 2:43 pm

  4. I am not really convinced of the unfeasability of a tunnel in deep alluvial soil, for the simple reason you can find some elsewhere: as an example, here is the changjiang tunnel built in alluvial soil

    Click to access 2008_003.pdf

    regarding the seismic resistance of a tunnel, my understanding is that tunnel are per nature more resistant that bridges, and anyway some system of anchor can be imagined to keep the tube in place, in order ot address the MB concerns

    I notice that navigation wise, there is an intrinsec limitation to the marine draught: every port impose a limit on it (15m is plenty and is panamx compliant), limitation for the air draft is imposed by the Panama canal is 58m, but suezmax is 68m, and chinamax has not limit…(anyway those kind of ship could not u-turn in the Fraser river)

    road traffic wise, 20m elevation change to go down and up is much more energy efficient than 60m elvation change to go up and down…so on the lifetime of a crossing, the energy contribution of a tunnel can be much lower than the one of a bridge…


    February 20, 2016 at 11:14 pm

  5. Dear MB and Voony,

    Thank you for the attention you’ve given this blog and my report as a whole. MB, I understand your instinctual incredulity, but if you go through the footnotes of the section on seismic safety standards, you will find lecture material from UBC’s department of earth, ocean, and atmospheric science which outlines the geotechnical upgrades that were intended to be completed after the first phase of seismic upgrades were completed in 2006. Unfortunately, the BC Liberals cancelled that phase even though it would have brought the tunnel up to NRC standards.

    Voony, I’m really glad that we share a point of view. You can find many more examples of comparable tunnel utilization at an ~85% lower cost than the proposed bridge.

    Hope you enjoyed the read,



    February 21, 2016 at 11:32 pm

  6. Thank you Nicholas and Voony for your responses and additional information. That’s a fascinating tunnel project in China.

    I have worked on projects where buildings and new sports fields were built (or replaced existing amenities) in 20+ m of peat-based soils. That’s 20+ m of mush. The old sports field sank by 100mm over 10 years just from the weight of the additional layer sand placed on it. The building was built on piles which were driven to the load-bearing glacial till far below, but the ground constantly shifts around it, thus cracking the paving and necessitating flexible water, sewer, gas and electrical connections.

    I also know that the Millennium Line between Holdom and Sperling stations was built on the edge of a peat-bog where it meets the glacial till rise on the north side of the Lougheed Hwy. The geotechnical engineer said the caissons supporting the guideway required extra attention because of the potentially large lateral seismic loads on the columns as the peat bog liquefies during a big one and the waves slam against the till hill and bounce back, like ripples in thin porridge splashing against the side of a bowl and rippling back when the bowl is shaken.

    A long time ago I read that the runways at YVR broke apart as large waves from the liquified soil underlying them radiated down their length during the large 7.6 magnitude Comox Lake quake in 1946. In addition, all the buildings in downtown Richmond above about five storeys now require very large “floating” concrete slab footings to give them resistance to leaning over when the underlying soils liquefy. An article in the Sun about eight years ago referred to geotechnical evidence that geysers of water carrying sand erupted from the soils all over low lying areas of Richmond and Delta during historic earthquakes, and also mentioned the very high and permanent water content and the relatively new evidence of salt water infiltration from below.

    It strikes me as a reasonable assumption that the tunnel will require special support structures (e.g. piles or very wide footing slabs) while the structure itself can always be reinforced on a stand-alone basis. The structure has to literally float during an earthquake. I am confident in the structure, but not the underlying conditions at this specific site without a very extensive geotechnical risk assessment, which the government seems not to have completed. There is also the risk that the ground surrounding the GMT, which is already unstable, will shift in any or all directions and cause large misalignments between the tunnel deck and road base at either end, or sinking and flooding where the portals join the surface elevation.

    The real test is, unfortunately, a big one. To date the tunnel has not been truly tested as it was built after the last one (1946) though it, and the rest of us, have certainly been reminded of the potential with several minor jolts over the last 40 years.


    February 23, 2016 at 9:52 am

  7. While I remain uncomfortable with a tunnel in soils subject to liquefaction and am open-minded to a bridge, I certainly do not believe that a 10-lane megabridge is justified in any way here especially given the evidence elsewhere that a bridge less than half that size can support populations and freight movements orders of magnitude greater than Metro Vancouver when rail is included. It’s like the boys and girls in the BC Liberal cabinet wanna show off their big dumb-ass toys while acting like bullies in the Metro playground.

    They can justify all the poorly-researched congestion-relief stats they want until the sheep come home, but the actual commercial and suburban volumes embedded in that design are more than excessive, and severely skews the financials. We need a government that will bring adequate levels of Smart Growth planning to the cabinet table to address our long-term challenges.

    At least the faulty numbers are getting reported, if not the principles of addressing climate change while planning for future transportation:


    February 23, 2016 at 10:09 am

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