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Plans to replace the aging George Massey tunnel will now focus on an eight-lane tube tunnel option, following a vote by a Metro Vancouver task force.

The group was asked to consider six different options to replace the crossing, with the province looking for the endorsement of a preferred option. It’s a step closer to a final decision on a new crossing, but there’s still a ways to go.

The shortlist of options on the table included:

  • an eight-lane tube tunnel
  • an eight-lane bridge
  • an eight-lane deep-bored tunnel (plus use of existing tunnel)
  • a six-lane tube tunnel (plus use of existing tunnel with dedicated transit lanes)
  • a six-lane bridge (plus use of the existing tunnel with dedicated transit lanes)
  • a six-lane deep-bored tunnel (plus use of existing tunnel with dedicated transit lanes)

Delta Mayor George Harvie said people sitting in gridlock right now just want the problem fixed.

“I’m really happy today. We’re finally moving forward after ten years of talking about this,” Harvie said.

A plan by the previous Liberal government to replace the tunnel with a 10-lane bridge at an estimated cost of $3.5 billion dollars was put on hold in September 2017 after the NDP took power. An independent technical review released in December 2018 recommended the previous government’s project be reconsidered.

Premier John Horgan said the previous plan did not have widespread support among Metro Vancouver mayors, and the province asked the region to come back with something more "consensus driven."

“I wouldn’t say for a second that it’s been a waste of time,” Horgan said.

Richmond-Queensborough Liberal MLA Jas Johal called it a "do-over" and "incredibly frustrating."

“We’ve done the consultation process, we spent $80 million, and all we got at the end of it was a pile of sand on the side of the highway in Richmond and Ladner that extends six kilometres. We have pissed away $80 million and we’re starting all over again,” Johal said.

A technical evaluation found the two bridge options would result in the least complex environmental assessment, stating: “much, but not all, of the assessment would be similar to the previous 10-lane bridge."

The evaluation found the cost for a bridge is expected to be similar to a tube tunnel, though specific estimates are not yet available.

It also said Deas Island Regional Park and communities in Delta would be impacted by the traffic noise, lights, and shade created by a bridge.

When it came to the deep-bored tunnel options, the evaluation noted they are “technically challenging and assessed as high risk." It found during the boring stage of such a project, the need for cutting head changes would pose a risk of sink hole formation. The review also noted an assessment would be required due to potential environmental risks to the river during construction, and the cost is estimated to be around three times more expensive than the tube tunnel or bridge options.

As for the tube tunnel, the evaluation described that type of project as “moderately challenging," and would have the greatest environmental impact during construction as excavation would be required on both sides of the river.

Delta South MLA Ian Paton said the tunnel would involve a trench being dug at the bottom of the Fraser River.

“Can you imagine the environmental damage to sturgeon and salmon spawning grounds?” Paton said.

The review said the existing Massey tunnel only has about 50 years of serviceable life remaining, but does not meet current seismic standards.

The recommendation from the task force also includes an addition suggested by New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote to make further plans to improve the corridor through Hwy 99 to improve transit speed, reliability, and capacity. It will now go on to a regional finance committee, and the province will conduct public consultation with the affected cities. A final decision is expected to be made at a regional district board meeting sometime in November.

The transportation ministry told CTV News Vancouver once approved, a completed business case for the project wouldn’t be expected till fall 2020.