Spending for major transit and infrastructure projects in Metro Vancouver was outlined in B.C.’s budget on Tuesday, but one of the biggest transportation bottlenecks — the George Massey Tunnel — was conspicuously absent.
The previous B.C. Liberal government had intended to replace the 59-year-old tunnel with a $3.5-billion, 10-lane bridge, but that idea has been put on hold by the NDP. In September the government decided to hire a consultant to explore whether it’s a better idea to build an altered ridge, a twinned tunnel or some other kind of replacement.
The review, which could cost up to $1 million, is due in the spring.
The absence of a line item in the budget related to the tunnel project has raised questions from business and construction groups about the government’s commitment to easing congestion on Highway 99.
The Surrey Board of Trade said it was concerned by the lack of budget numbers for the Massey Tunnel.
“We recognize for goods and movement through the Lower Mainland, the Massey Tunnel has to be replaced as well,” said board CEO Anita Huberman.
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association said the Massey Tunnel project was “completely deleted” from the budget.
Under capital spending, there is $4 billion in provincial funding set aside for transportation, including $1.179 billion set aside over three years for transit infrastructure — $318 million in 2018-19, $474 million in 2019-20 and $387 in 2020-21 — and $605 million for the Pattullo Bridge replacement.
The almost $1.2 billion in funding for transit relates to the commitment the NDP made during its campaign to fund 40 per cent of capital projects in the second phase of the Mayors’ 10-Year Vision for transportation in Metro Vancouver. That phase of the vision includes major projects such as a subway line in Vancouver, at-grade light rail in Surrey and SkyTrain upgrades.
What it does not address is the $60 million to $70 million annual funding gap that the region still needs to cover to make the plan a reality.
In addition to the province kicking in money for projects, the federal government has committed to paying up to 40 per cent of the capital costs for three major projects. TransLink is responsible for the rest, plus all operating costs, and has funded more than half ($130 million) from existing revenue sources.
An image from a government of B.C. video shows the proposed 10-lane, $1.377 billion Massey bridge that the NDP government has put on hold.
TransLink and the Mayors’ Council have been in negotiations with the province to see what mechanisms they will be allowed to use to cover the gap, which could include increases to gas and parking taxes or a vehicle levy. The mayors do not want to rely on increasing property taxes or fares.
It’s expected that a funding agreement will be in place by the end of March.
“Although this major provincial investment in transit hinges on filling a small gap in regional funding, we hope the B.C. government and the Mayors’ Council will find a solution and unlock this major opportunity,” said David Suzuki Foundation policy analyst Tom Green.
The province announced on Friday that it would be taking over the long-planned Pattullo Bridge replacement. TransLink had intended to build the new bridge by 2023, paying for it with money from the province and tolls, but when the government removed tolls from bridges it took that funding source away.
To make up for the funding shortfall, the province assumed control of the project, and will own and operate the new bridge.
The total cost of replacement is pegged at $1.377 billion.
The Ministry of Finance did not provide responses Tuesday to questions about the Massey Tunnel.
- B.C. budget spends big on child care and housing, expands foreign buyer tax
- B.C. Budget 2018: How the B.C. budget will affect you
- B.C. Budget 2018: Families earning less than $45,000 a year will pay 'little or nothing' for licensed daycare
- B.C. Budget 2018: $1.6 billion allocated for housing but no rebate for renters
- B.C. Budget 2018: New payroll tax offsets loss from cancelling medical premiums
- B.C. Budget 2018: Take our poll – are you happy with the B.C. Budget?