Monday, April 7, 2014

One billion dollars per minute? Replacing the Massey Tunnel

There have been plans on the books since the early 1990s to replace the Massey Tunnel. While these plans collected dust, the Ministry of Transportation has focused on increasing transit usage by installing bus-only lane along the Highway 99 corridor, and preforming seismic upgrades in the tunnel.

Back in late 2012, the province announced that it was planning to replace the Massey Tunnel. Many wondered if this was an example of pure politics by Christy Clark and BC Liberals to win votes when they weren’t doing well in the polls. The Liberals won the election, and replacing the tunnel is full steam ahead.

There are many questions about this project like: how much will it cost, what is the project’s scope, what impact will it have on land-use in the region, how will it impact transit usage, and how will it impact air quality? These are questions that Metro Vancouver asked TransLink and the Ministry of Transportation respond to.

The Ministry of Transportation will be releasing the full details of the project this spring, but currently remains tight lipped about it. The Ministry did say that the scope of the project will go from the US/Canada border to the Oak Street Bridge. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes another Port Mann/Highway 1 style project. While the cost of the project remains unknown, looking at the scope of the project, it will be in line with $2 billion+ Port Mann/Highway 1 project. Tolls are meant to pay for the cost of the Port Mann Bridge/Highway 1 project, but the Port Mann Bridge isn’t meeting it projected usage. Will all BC taxpayers be on the hook for another Vancouver megabridge?

According to the research done by TransLink, the new bridge will not impact land-use as long as the Agricultural Land Reserve and Urban Growth Boundary remain in place. With the recent court decision regarding the region’s ability to regulate land use, these two things cannot be taken for granted anymore.

TransLink’s data also indicates that without a toll, the new bridge would cause a 40% jump in traffic. Transit usage would also drop from 12% today to 9% in 2045. A tolled bridge would only cause a 5% increase in traffic by 2045, and transit usage would remain steady at 9%.

An untolled bridge would cause vehicle kilometres travelled to substantially increase. This means that greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants would increase. A tolled bridge or doing nothing would only result in a small increase in vehicle kilometres travelled.

Without a toll, the bridge would be at capacity by 2045.

The really kicker is that by building an untolled bridge or keeping the tunnel, travel times will only increase by 3 minutes for someone travelling from 8th Avenue in Surrey to the Oak Street Bridge by 2045. A tolled bridge would shave 3 minutes off that same commute by 2045.

Of course the big question is what will happen to the traffic when it reaches the Oak Street Bridge?

The real benefit in time savings and congestion reduction is a result of tolling. While the province appears to have no interest in region-wide tolling on existing infrastructure, this makes the most sense to me. Instead it looks like the province may spend $3 billion to shave minutes of an average commute. Is this a good return on investment?

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