Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Massey Bridge was a bad idea back in 1955

Back in 2013, Christy Clark announced that the provincial government would replace the Massey Tunnel with a new bridge. On the surface, this seemed like a good idea as the Massey Tunnel is a bottleneck during peak travel periods.

For a bit of a history lesson, Time and Tide: The Settlement of Lulu Island’s South Arm Shore from the Richmond Archives explains why a tunnel was originally built.

The completed Massey Tunnel on opening day, May 23, 1959. Source: City of Richmond Archives
Mr. Massey had promoted, researched, lobbied and spoken to any interested persons on behalf of building a tunnel underneath the Fraser River at the site of the Ladner Ferry terminal. Among his arguments in favour of a tunnel instead of a bridge were that the approaches for a bridge would be so long as to be wasteful form a land use point of view, and very expense to build.

Further research by consultants hired by the province in 1955 found that a tunnel would cost $152.2 million (2015, inflation adjusted) as opposed to a bridge which would cost $214.8 million (2015, inflation adjusted). A bridge was 41% more costly than a tunnel!

Another challenge with building a bridge is the soil conditions in the area. A presentation for the UBC course EOSC 547, Tunnelling and Underground Engineering by Robert Cross, notes the soil conditions around the Massey Tunnel and construction methods used to build it.

One of the tragedies of modernity is forgetting about the past. The irony is not lost on me that Minster of Transportation Todd Stone said last week that, “It’s a much more complex technical project than even the Port Mann Bridge was” and that “the bridge will actually be a bit longer and at a bit higher. It will be a larger bridge overall than what the Port Mann is, mainly because of the soil conditions that have been encountered.”

Knowing the history of the area, it is no surprise that the proposed Massey Bridge is now going to cost north of $3 billion, and will likely be over budget.

To put that $3 billion into perspective, the whole Mayors’ Council Regional Transportation Investment Plan for Metro Vancouver costs $7.5 billion with benefits throughout the region.

Building a bridge across the Fraser River at Deas Island was a bad idea sixty years ago; the reasons for it being a bad idea haven’t changed 60 years later.

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