The George Massey tunnel saga

October 5, 2012

Some Addendum on Nov 23, taking finding of [8]

The Clark government has decided that the George Massey tunnel need to be replaced, why?

The tunnel is congested

Of course, but how congested is the tunnel (see our bridge traffic post for more context)?

bridges traffic counts show some congestion, but nothing unreasonable in the tunnel

By reasonable standards, the level of congestion in the tunnel is manageable noticing that there is a significant amount of time where traffic is free flow. Beside the lack of substantiation, the announce, that the Delta port extension will generate an additional 1700 daily truck trips [3], has to be taken with a grain of salt:

  • It represents only 2% of the actual traffic, what the Tunnel used to handle in the past
  • It represents only 1% of the actual Tunnel capacity

The question one should asks, is:

Why we should build a new infrastructure, in the name of keeping the Deltaport truck traffic moving when this traffic could be easily shifted during non congested hour? The rather limited current Deltaport hours of operation is not allowing this today [1], why not change that?

Never mind the present (or the port),

population growth will make the tunnel congested in the future anyway?

The past trend suggests otherwise: the region has already experimented a significant population growth, which has not prevented a declining trend for the traffic into the tunnel:

George Massey average daily traffic years 1996-2011: the trend is slightly decreasing in despite of population growth in the area (number from (4)

But why people see it differently?

The Province has engineered a funnel effect at the tunnel portals, that is feeding the tunnel with more lanes than it can handle, this in the disguise of Transit investment:

A true bus lane, or HOT could certainly make transit faster than car, and reduce the funnel effect (due to lane reduction at the tunnel portal when no reverse lane is in place). (8) believes this measure by itself can allow a doubling of the transit ridership

In light of the above, one must asks: Is the George Massey tunnel replacement the best we can do to improve the lower mainland traffic?

The Clark government seems already have made his mind on it, but where are the studies and analysis supporting the replacement choice?

Is building more road the way to alleviate congestion?

Is it some other solutions?

At least two avenues deserve to be explored: better transit and road pricing, both working better hand in hand

Better transit

Currently, the transit modal share in the tunnel is nothing to cheer about:

Transit modal share Lions gate Bridge George Massey Tunnel
overall (all day all direction) > 20%[6] ~ 11%[7]
AM peak hr To Vancouver direction > 36%[6] ~ 19%[8]
PM peak hr leaving Vancouver direction > 28%[6] ~ 18%[8]

It is not better than the average mode share in the region, way far below than what is witnessed on the Lions gate bridge, and even much lower than the 2020 provincial transit plan’s target, 17% [9]. There is no reason for such dismissal modal share when a level of transit similar to the one witnessed on the Lions gate could remove enough car (~12000 per day, or 1200 peak hour NB, that is almost the capacity of a full lane!) to make the tunnel virtually congestion free. Transit offer could be much better for people coming from south of the tunnel. It doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment (Proper bus lane and queue jumper are among them) and we believe a lot can be done in the current Translink budget, some suggestion below:

A Vancouver network more accessible from the South of Fraser

First, Translink needs to recognize that not all people are heading to downtown and has to provide a larger access to Vancouver from south of the Fraser. A suggestion already made in a previous post is to extend most of the North South Vancouver bus route to either Marine Drive or Knight Bridge.

suggestion for bus route 3,16,8,20 and 100

A slight re-structuration of Vancouver bus route, can improve general access to the city from South of the Fraser

…To have them connected to a network of regional bus routes, as we have suggested before, more noticeabily a Ladner-Metrotown via Knight bridge route (we here call route #630)

A comprehensive network of regional bus line is necessary to attract long distance commuter.

A Richmond network more accessible from the South of Fraser

That is the trail, wet and muddy in winter, dry and dusty in summer, to reach the SB Hwy 99 bus stop at Steveston!


Leverage of the Steveston#99 interchange can seriously improve access to Richmond from the Ladner area

A Proper branding

Lastly, when the service level is objectively good, people need to know it. Branding is important as we have already seen with the suggestion of code sharing to create a B #699 line between Ladner and BridgePort, leveraging the existing #601 and #620 routes.

a well branded bus toward the customer base. a driver following this bus can’t really ignore where it is heading, at what frequency, where it stops and how much it cost.

Road pricing

What is the cost of congestion in the tunnel?

Phenomenal will tell some…some more substantiated studies will tell at which level a toll needs to be set to avoid congestion (That is the real economic cost). In the case of the George Massey tunnel, it is at a level such that the congestion toll need to be in effect not much more than 5hr per day, and could rise only $46 millions [2] as we have already seen in a previous post.

…that barely pay for the interest of a $1Billion debt…

Regarding the George Massey tunnel, the choice the Vancouver region should face is not “do you prefer a tunnel or a bridge as replacement” but do you prefer:

  • Pay an infrastructure toll, at all time, to help to finance a new crossing, knowing the toll will probably not be enough and taxpayer money will be required
  • Pay a congestion toll, that is a toll only at time where congestion could occurs, the toll revenue helping to finance transit alternative reducing the demand pressure for road space (see our congestion charge post for more detail)

The first solution needs 10 years time frame to be implemented and doesn’t resolve transit funding issue. The second solution, which doesn’t preclude the first one in due time [5], can be implemented overnight and resolves the congestion issue now as well as provide transit funding. Which alternative is the best?

We humbly suggest that the best alternative is the one requiring the less tax-payer and user fee money.

Additional consideration
That said, some other parameters need to enter in consideration, like

  • Structure resilience to earthquakes
  • Road safety issue
  • Marine traffic

On the later, some rumors suggest that the presence of the tunnel is limiting the possible amount of marine traffic, due to draft restriction. The Nautical chart of the Fraser river tell another story. In fact the depth along the channel is around 11 meters, 12 meters above the Tunnel.

The nautical chart doesn’t show the tunnel location as being the shallower point of the channel, in fact opening the channel to greater draft ship could require considerable dredging of the whole channel.

Allowing ships with greater draft than allowed now could require considerable dredging of the Fraser channel, from the Stevenson jetty far end to East of the tunnel, as well as significant on going maintenance, due to constant build up of sandspit. That certainly has a non negligible ecological cost as well. The economic rational of this is pretty unclear, and we notice that around the world, ports don’t seem to develop operation inland…beside barging (option here restrained by the railway bridge at New West)… since not all ports can count on a government building road for free to them.


[1] Delta port truck gate hour of operation are 7am-12pm and 12:30pm 4pm Monday to Friday

[2] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008

[3] Christy Clark announces plans to replace George Massey Tunnel, VancouverSun, September 29, 2012

[4] BC MOT

[5] Congestion charge: the case for Vancouver

[6] Lions Gate Bridge / Marine Drive Transit Priority Study: Summary of Technical Study , Translink/IBI. peak hour number are extrapolated of hourly traffic graph

[7] Number are considering all ridership of bus route crossing the tunnel, as provided per Translink (BSPR 2011) and tunnel daily traffic assuming 1.2 person/vehicle, as provided by the BC MOT

[8] Highway 99 corridor assessment, draft v.1.5, Januray 2009, BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (report got thru civicsurrey.com). Notice: thought the transit numbers of this report pre-date the advent of the Canada line, they are based on a bus count (36 in peak hour/direction), which is the same as of November 2012.

[9] The Provincial Transit Plan, 2008

3 Responses to “The George Massey tunnel saga”

  1. P@J Says:

    Good post as usual. (good to see you back!) However, your analysis of the tunnel draft issue could use clarification.

    Currently there is a Transport Canada restriction limiting ships of greater than 12.5m draft from crossing the tunnel. This includes depth to the rock armour on top of the tunnel and a bit of “wiggle room” to account for the unexpected. (see page 40 of this report, amongst other sources http://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/policy/tp14710e.pdf).

    The rest of the river is dredged to about 12.5 m, set essentially by the lack of need to dredge deeper than the tunnel. This dredging is a constant activity, outside of specific fisheries-mandated closure windows. Note all charts are drawn to “lowest low normal tide”, and with tides in the Steveston area reaching 3m, that means a 14m-draftship may pass the tunnel with tide support.

    Prior to dredging, the “natural” draft of the Fraser at Sand Head was less than 3m above LNT. Increasing the depth of the dredging by a metre or two would not significantly change the existing dredging program, except for making it a little more expensive I suppose. Bringing reliable Panamax ship service up to Surrey Port might provide the impetus to spend that money as Vancouver Harbour becomes more congested, but only if the tunnel is gone.

    The Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation definitely mentioned the tunnel as being the one issue that limited the loading of the Panamax tankers they propose to bring up the South Arm. It has also been mentioned as a limiting factor in many older Fraser Port Authority reports.

  2. Rico Says:

    Good to see you posting again. Essencially a great post, considering the other transportation projects available (and a limited budget) the only justifiable reason to replace the tunnel would be if the tunnel turns out to be seriously structurally compromised in the event of an earthquake. As for the port, it seems to me if port traffic could reasonably be directed upstream it would bypass several congestion bottlenecks and that would be good for everyone.

  3. Voony Says:

    Thanks for your comments, and thanks P@J for the clarification.

    To be sure, I don’t deny that the tunnel is a limiting factor to the draft allowance on the south arm, but what I say it is not necessarily the only one…
    And a benefit/cost analysis, including environmental impact has still to be seen on it.

    Also, as a side note P@J, in an excellent post of yours, you seems to rule out the possibility of a new tunnel, mainly for geological reason…I am just curious to know what is the difference between the Fraser Delta and the Changjiang one (Shanghai), since in the later one, bored tunnel seems feasible (I guess they use slurry shield ones)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: