Monday, May 6, 2019

Metro Vancouver leaders call for bus-only lanes for Massey Tunnel expansion project

The previous BC Liberal government was in the process of building a $3.5+ billion, 10-lane bridge to replace the current Massey Tunnel. I’ve posted quite extensively on this proposed bridge. I noted that the technical challenges would likely have further driven up the cost of the bridge, and that the data suggested that a 10-lane toll bridge would lead to an overall increase in congestion for roads that cross the Fraser River and could lead to a reduction in transit usage along Highway 99. The current BC NDP government cancelled the bridge project and went back to the drawing board.

Last December, the provincial government released an independent technical review of the Massey Tunnel replacement project. The key takeaways were that a smaller six-to-eight lane crossing with bus-only lanes would “accommodate the majority of traffic predicted by 2045”, and that the existing tunnel could likely be twinned.

The provincial government is now coming up with a new plan for expanding capacity across the Fraser River along the Highway 99 corridor and is reaching out to stakeholders throughout our region. They presented to Langley City council at the end of March. At that meeting, they noted that they wanted to start implementing changes along the Highway 99 corridor beginning in the summer of 2020.

Recently, Chief Wayne Sparrow from the Musqueam Indian Band and Chief Bryce Williams from Tsawwassen First Nation, plus the mayors of Delta, Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver, and White Rock signed a letter regrading the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. They stated in the letter that:

  • The project should address First Nation concerns regarding in-river works and fisheries impacts.
  • The project should not create additional potentially costly, lengthy or prohibitive environmental challenges or reviews.
  • The project should address the City of Richmond and Delta’s concern regarding local impacts at interchanges or access point, as well as minimize impacts on agricultural land.
  • To fully realize the benefits of this significant investment, the entire Highway 99 corridor should be evaluated for improvements as part of the crossing project including the existing congestion at the South Surrey interchanges.
  • The project should address the City of Richmond and Vancouver’s concerns regarding excess capacity, the risk of increasing vehicles kilometres travelled, and the potential to worsen congestion at the Oak Street Bridge and along the Oak Street corridor.
  • The crossing should be designed to serve the needs of the region to at least 2100.
  • The crossing should include six lanes for regular traffic including goods movement and two lanes dedicated for rapid transit bus, with dedicated facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, and include immediate access to enhanced rapid transit capacity at opening. It should also have the potential for conversion to rail in the future, including consideration for potential high speed rail.
  • As it is now, all utility infrastructure, including BC Hydro power transmission lines, should be constructed underground in conjunction with the tunnel.
  • Any solution must address the matter in a timely manner, hopefully with construction completed by 2025-2026.

There are a few things that I wanted to highlight from this letter. The first is the call for dedicated bus-only lanes, not HOV lanes. This is important because mixing double-occupancy vehicles with buses that can hold around 60 people (and are usually packed along Highway 99) results in making transit service less reliable.

HOV lanes are generally called out as tools to reduce congestion, vehicles kilometres travelled, and air pollution, yet there appears to be little evidences to support these claims. A recent research paper by Sharon Shewmake of Western Washington University titled “The Impact of High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes on Vehicle Miles Traveled” found that “it appears that HOV lanes fail to reduce traffic volume in areas that are being encouraged to build them.”

A document from Transport Canada notes that “in general, most researchers and transportation practitioners agree that the majority of arterial and highway HOV facilities in Canada have met their primary objectives of reducing congestion, encouraging carpooling and improving travel times for multi-occupant vehicles (and buses where they are permitted on HOV facilities). Unfortunately, the quality and quantity of data to support these finding is relatively limited, particularly from Canadian sources.

The signatories to the letter call for six lanes for general-purpose travel, this is less than the original eight which was proposed with the now cancelled Massey Bridge project.

Finally, the signatories call on the crossing to be rail-ready. While this is good to do, most bridges built across the Fraser River in Metro Vancouver including the Alex Fraser Bridge are “rail ready”, yet no bridge in Metro Vancouver has been converted to date.

It will be interesting to see what the provincial government’s new Massey Tunnel upgrade project will look like.

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