I’ve been holding off on reprinting this article, in part to see what response it would get.  So far, nothing.

Which is extraordinary, given that it suggests a profound change of view on the part of our Transportation Minister, Kevin Falcon – not to mention the implications for Delta, Richmond and the region.

Here’s the article from the Richmond Review, May 8, 2009.  I’ve highlighted the really signficant parts in bold:

Tunnel good ‘for another 50 years,’ says minister.

By Matthew Hoekstra 
Boasting new transit options, an effective counter-flow system and a seismic upgrade adding 50 years to its life, the George Massey Tunnel is here to stay, B.C.’s Transportation Minister said.

In an interview with The Richmond Review, Kevin Falcon said the province’s infrastructure priorities are the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge and the four-lane South Fraser Perimeter Road.

“That’s going to be it for the immediate future. We’re now focusing very heavily on our transit plan initiatives. We think that giving people a really attractive transit option is going to be one way we’re going to make better use of the existing road network that we now have.”

The tunnel, built in 1959, turns 50 this year.

Once those projects are complete, transportation planners will mull any possible infrastructure changes in the South Fraser corridor.

Meantime, new bus lanes are being built on the north side of the tunnel for a so-called rapid bus service in both directions, and the province’s $20 million investment in seismic upgrades will extend the life of the tunnel “for easily another 50 years,” said Falcon.

Improvements have also been made to the counterflow lane technology, Falcon said.

Building a new span over the South Arm would only be a temporary solution, he said.

Vancouver, of course, has made it very clear that they’re not interested in improving the Oak Street Bridge corridor. So you basically make a very large investment to move the choke point down a little bit further to the Oak Street Bridge.”

When the new Port Mann opens in December 2012, drivers will pay a toll to use the crossing. But that shouldn’t affect tunnel traffic, said Falcon. The new bridge will draw the same amount of new traffic as it loses in people who go elsewhere to avoid the toll, he said….

But according to Stephen Rees, the best way to improve the movement of people and reduce emissions is to build more accessible transit options now, instead of new highways and bridges.

“We’ve got to do something quickly. This is a pressing problem,” said Rees, a former transportation planner and Green party candidate in Richmond East.

“Most of what Kevin Falcon is saying about transit expansion is too little too late. If you spent the $3 billion that you’re spending on Highway 1 or the $15 billion that the Gateway program is costing, on transit expansions [instead] you would have seen a great deal more people-moving capacity in the region a lot quicker.”

Rees acknowledged some people may insist a new span be built now that the tunnel is 50 years old. That, however, will only lead to more traffic and more urban sprawl, he said.

“Personally I’m not in favour of lots more traffic and urban sprawl, but if that’s what you like, fill your boots.”