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Jack Becker’s Alternate Vision for the Massey Tunnel

December 11, 2012

I’m pleased to be using Price Tags as a venue for getting alternative visions out for discussion.  And if there’s one priority that we should be looking at for an alternative vision, it’s the Massey Tunnel – currently under public review by the provincial government.

If our leaders – whether provincial or regional – priorize yet another multi-billion-dollar piece of road infrastructure over all the pressing needs for rapid-transit, whether to service or shape growth – then something is seriously wrong.  Beyond seriously wrong. 

This would be a culture that is doubling down on denial, building more infrastructure – pipelines, highways, strip malls – at the very moment when hope for leadership on climate change has been lost and science is more definitive than ever that we are heading for catastrophe.  When, indeed, catastrophe is actually happening, and we need to prepare for an alternative future.

Instead, we build more of the same.

So, rather than despair, we need to offer alternatives.  Jack Becker sent me one today:


An Alternate Vision for the Massey Tunnel – Transit not Car Orientation

In the last few years, there have been a lot of large road and bridge infrastructures projects completed in Metro Vancouver and in BC, including the Port Mann Bridge.  It would be quite reasonable to expect that the BC road building and bridge building companies and their trade (advocacy) associations would use the same techniques as other companies in preparing their annual operating budgets.  They would look out to see where their revenues would becoming from in the next 5 to 10 years to keep their companies active and to making profits to their expectations.  

There are not that many big projects in the horizon, so it would be reasonable to expect them to encourage and advocate with the Premier, government ministers, and other politicians to create new road and bridge building projects to keep them busy.  Before elections, governments have been known to announce large projects with expectations that there may be local jobs associated with them as a technique to buy votes. 

So now, we have a George Massey Tunnel consultation going on.  Will there be an announcement in the months leading up to the vote?


My Vision For Southern Metro Vancouver

The vision is an alternative for building any capacity enhancements for Highway 99 and the George Massey Tunnel.  The vision sets up a scenario where the current three lanes in the tunnel would be sufficient for the next 50 years or so.  Commercial truck passage through the tunnel would speed up. The vision would also provide an opportunity for reducing car traffic on Highway 17 on the Island.

In this vision, the Canada Line would be expanded across the South Arm of the Fraser River and branch off to Surrey, White Rock, to the border.  The other arm would pass through Langley to the Tsawwassen ferry docks with a fast connection to Tsawwassen and the Port Roberts border. …



Monies that would be spend on the Massey Tunnel and Highway 99, beyond maintenance, could be redirected.  When the current ferries need replacing or major refitting due to age, the difference in investment cost to passenger-bike ferries could be redirected.  The difference in operating costs between the current ferries and passenger-bike ferries that would replace some of the schedule runs could be redirected. 

When the vision is built, then some of TransLink’s operating monies could be redirected to this lower operating cost transit solution.  This solution benefits from rapid transit economics of about half the operating cost per rider of buses.  Bus trips through the tunnel would be eliminated.  Current buses would become feeder buses to the rapid transit line.  Large buses could be replaced with community buses providing higher level of service at lower overall costs.


Contribution to the Transportation System

As the Canada Line has shown, people will make transition to transit when fast trip times and frequency of service are provided.  Those in White Rock and southern Surrey who use the Massey Tunnel with destination to Richmond, the airport and downtown Vancouver could then also make the switch to the Canada Line.  The same would hold for residents in Langley, Tsawwassen and Point Roberts.  Massey Tunnel traffic volumes would drop, eliminating delays there for commercial vehicles.  More direct transit service to the airport would reduce car traffic through the tunnel.

Fast service from downtown Vancouver to Tsawwassen ferry dock could speed up the current shift from taking a car on the ferry to using transit instead.  Fast service to downtown Victoria would increase the speed of reducing car traffic on the ferries.


Political Appeal

Some of the political points would include less traffic through the tunnel, less congestion time, faster commercial vehicles passing through the tunnel, faster trip time for resident and to the ferry docks, less cost to individuals to reaching Victoria, tourism benefits – appeal to encourage more tourists or Vancouverites to make the trip to Victoria, and social benefits in greenhouse gas reduction.

For municipalities, the political points would include a reason for stopping urban sprawl and developing higher density urban core with financially sustainable retail activities, less infrastructure investment in population growth, and less demand on annual property taxes for servicing this growth than if it were provided through single-family urban sprawl.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Don permalink
    December 11, 2012 4:18 pm

    By Langley I assume he means Delta…

  2. December 11, 2012 5:08 pm

    This is exactly the kind of thinking that needs to go into any consideration of replacements or upgrades to the Massey tunnel. While I personally don’t think that a Canada Line extension would make a lot of sense I do think that a rail link should be a part of the discussion. A commuter line into Richmond from Delta could (properly structured) take a lot of automobiles off the road in that area and reduce pressure on the existing tunnel.

    Also, a provincially owned rail crossing could allot time to the rail companies as an alternative to the Fraser Swing Bridge near the Pattullo, as long as priority is provided to the movements of passengers. A second rail crossing of the Fraser in the Lower Mainland would be of benefit to everyone in the region.

    • Agustin permalink
      December 11, 2012 5:38 pm

      What are your doubts about extending the Canada Line to the ferry?

      I would love it, personally. Add a couple of stops in Richmond, one in Ladner, and one at the ferry terminal. It certainly would make the trip to the Island much more convenient.

      If the pretense is to remove impediments to commercial traffic through the tunnel and help commuters get into Vancouver, then this would definitely help.

      • December 11, 2012 7:20 pm

        I don’t think that an urban oriented light metro designed to service stations about every kilometre or so is the right choice to cover a largely suburban or rural area. It would be a hugely expensive endeavour and there’s not going to be enough demand to justify it anytime in the life expectancy of the infrastructure. It would require more than doubling the length of the Canada Line to cover some of the least dense segments of the Lower Mainland.

        It’s almost certainly not going to be worthwhile in our lifetimes to have trains going to the Ferry port every three minutes.

        On the other hand, simple “heavy” rail infrastructure could be built relatively inexpensively, paralleling a lot of existing provincially owned right-of-ways. Push-pull trains or diesel multiple units could provide high quality service and that could be electrified in the future as increasing demand called for it.

        Obviously I think a rail link is worth considering and I would almost certainly use it personally, but it would have to be a sensible rail link, and a light metro like the Canada Line isn’t really suitable to the area.

  3. Agustin permalink
    December 11, 2012 5:41 pm

    One other benefit would be the ease of access from the airport directly to the ferry. Good for tourism!

  4. December 11, 2012 6:19 pm

    not everyone going through the tunnel is going to or from the ferry terminal.. what about people heading to whiterock, south delta, industrial parks etc? The moment you add a bus transfer off of the line, your ridership drops like a tank and people get in their cars. This is not a realistic plan, whether or not people like it, people will use their cars unless unless its easier not to.

  5. Adam Fitch permalink
    December 11, 2012 6:46 pm

    I have taken the bus from the Tsawassen ferry terminal into Vancouver lots of times, and it is not easy. Sometimes several transfers and long waits between them. An extension of the Canada Line would be helpful. But, bear in mind, I don’t think that the Canada Line is designed to handle that much extra passenger volume. It might end up with trains being full by the time they got to Richmond from Delta.

  6. Adam Fitch permalink
    December 11, 2012 6:48 pm

    Every time Jack Becker says Langley, I believe that he means Ladner.

  7. December 11, 2012 7:53 pm


    It should have read Ladner, not Langley. Sorry, I was looking at a map when incorrectly typing it.

    What is important is the concept of a rail-based solution that provides a service level sufficient to attracting people not to use their cars. The solution needs to be environmentally friendly, i.e. electrical powered.

    If the concept is adopted by the governments involved, then technology and routing can be discussed.

    There is an argument that rail service to the Surrey / White Rock areas should be designed to allow high-speed train service. There is an argument that this rail service should be positioned for further expansion into Downtown Vancouver and to Seattle and Portland in the future. For trip-time efficiency and to attract customers/riders, the rail line needs to be as direct as possible.

    Highway right-of-way provide excellent corridors for rapid transit, either on the ground or above. Sometimes these are well located for servicing urban areas and sometimes not. They definitely are routings that appeals to car drivers so should be considered for some form of rapid transit. After all, a rapid or semi rapid transit service can reduce the road demand by two lanes easily. So room is there. Take a look at Cambie St. now as evidence of this.

    Right now, the priority is to sell a rail-based solution instead of widening the highways and the tunnel. For BC Ferries, it is important to sell the concept of passenger-bike ferries to replace some of the car-carrying ferries, as car carrying demand drops.

  8. mike0123 permalink
    December 11, 2012 9:52 pm

    The Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal is in a transit-hostile location. It see infrequent demand (i.e. often hourly, but also at irregular intervals and often delayed, and inbound at different times than outbound) for service that more than fills a couple articulated buses. The transit connection at this terminal is necessarily tied to the ferry schedule and intended for ferry passengers only because there is no large adjacent destination (i.e. within walking distance to the line). Transit service there doesn’t complement service to Tsawwassen or Ladner; instead it runs in parallel as a separate system.

    Steveston is a much more transit-friendly location for a ferry terminal. What makes Steveston a better location is that it is already the terminus for a number of bus routes that are almost frequent and could become frequent. It might eventually become a large enough destination to justify some form of limited-stop service on its own that could double as a ferry connection.

    The distance from Active Pass to Tsawwassen Terminal is about 20 km. The Spirit-class BC ferries claim a maximum speed of 19.5 knots. The distance from Active Pass to Steveston is about 33 km, assuming a somewhat indirect routing. The passenger-only Victoria Clippers between Seattle and Victoria claim a maximum speed of 30 knots. The overall trip time between Vancouver and Victoria would be similar, even if excluding the extra time to access Tsawwassen Terminal.

    I’m not sure there’s much point in worrying about congestion or transit in South Delta. The population is small and stagnant, even moreso than the North Shore. Increasing capacity there is unjustifiable given the unremarkable traffic and more pressing mobiliity issues elsewhere in the region.

    • yvrlutyens permalink
      December 12, 2012 4:59 pm

      I had a similar concept of moving the ferry terminal to Iona Island north of the airport in the hopes that the Canada Line could be connected to the terminal is a reasonable way. The thinking was that this could replace the Horseshoe Bay terminal for Nanaimo traffic as it would be about the same distance. This would be an apt location for the terminal, but I like the area and would hate to see it clogged with cars. I’m not sure that it makes sense as a location for a passenger only terminal. If the Expo Line or the Canada Line were extended under the Harbour and up Lonsdale to the #1, such a terminal would be reasonably well connected even with the North Shore.

  9. Guest permalink
    December 11, 2012 10:01 pm

    As Raja mentioned, not everyone going through the tunnel is headed for the ferry, nor are they headed for downtown Vancouver. Many are probably headed for the industrial parks in Richmond that are hard to serve with transit. A commuter rail line would serve those going to/from downtown Vancouver who choose to use it, but wouldn’t serve others with more scattered destinations. If Richmond had its office space concentrated in downtown Richmond, that would be a different story. But also remember, that light industrial jobs have be banished from Vancouver to the suburbs (Port Coquitlam, Richmond and Delta), and workers have followed suit. So many of the commuters may not even find a commuter train to downtown Richmond very useful.

  10. Richard Campbell permalink
    December 12, 2012 1:11 am

    Freeways make great higher-speed rail corridors but not great rapid transit corridors. They are already grade separated so that decreases the cost. They tend to be straight so trains can go faster. The catchment area for higher speed rail is large so it is expected that most people will take transit to it and not walk. The freeway corridor can also be used as the mainline with branches going off it for stations that are more in the heart of the community.

    Rapid transit station on freeways are typically not that great. No one wants to live near a freeway so they aren’t good for creating walking oriented developments near transit.

  11. David permalink
    December 12, 2012 1:18 am

    The other elephant in the room is that expanding transportation opportunities automatically puts pressure on an area to approve additional development. Much of South Delta is agricultural and should stay that way. Apart from Surrey, most of the communities south of the Fraser are bedrooms with vastly more residents than jobs and many of those jobs are currently in or planned for isolated locations that cannot be served by transit: Roberts Bank, Campbell Heights, Gloucester Industrial area, etc. I believe priority should be given to municipalities that have committed themselves to becoming more complete communities and have clear plans to locate people and jobs in central areas. Sprawl should under no circumstances be rewarded with new roads or transit.

  12. December 12, 2012 1:19 am

    Jack, were you at the Richmond open house on Dec 4th? someone proposed the very idea exposed here. The staff was confident enough it was going to get a cold reception, so it polled the audience, and cold the reception has been!

    If you are talking about pedestrian+bike ferry, there is no really need to have them in Delta anymore, such boats could as well land closer to Vancouver.

    but, let address the problem with our current means -that means using bus- here another alternative (effectively addressing the fact all people don’t go to DT Vancouver)

    PS: modal split in my post (11%) doesn’t match the one touted by the MOT (25%): the mine is closer to reality than the MOT one (the staff at the Open house on Dec 4th has recognized it): Why I am so confident in it?
    There is simply not enough bus to carried all the people the MOT says is traveling by bus in the tunnel…so why should I believe other claims

  13. December 12, 2012 2:28 am

    If our leaders – whether provincial or regional – priorize yet another multi-billion-dollar piece of road infrastructure over all the pressing needs for rapid-transit, whether to service or shape growth – then something is seriously wrong.“.

    True but . . .

    Remember, Vancouver is a medium sized, culturally isolated relatively new and gullible community. It was divested of real industrial wealth creation in the early ’70’s to the extent it now relies solely on the winds off the Great Gobi blowing real estate speculators and money launderers on-shore, making affordable accommodation out of reach for the locals: hence families lining up at the Massey tunnel to go to a home they may, marginally, be able to afford.

    Trucks laden with produce from points south also line because an abused ALR is unproductive.

    Auto infrastructure has become de rigueur, a pay package for thousands, for nearly a century and the public will not be convinced otherwise if we keep bringing up the old worn out shibboleth . . . climate change.

    This would be a culture that is doubling down on denial, building more infrastructure – pipelines, highways, strip malls – at the very moment when hope for leadership on climate change has been lost.

    Scientists disagree . . .

    The hypothesis that our emissions of CO2 have caused, or will cause, dangerous warming is not supported by the evidence.

    There we go again and road building has nothing to do with climate change!

    If you persist in using this bogeyman to substantiate your plans you will get nowhere!

    Of course we must stop building this entire auto infrastructure if for no other reason we cannot afford it. And we must be discriminating about how and were we plan for rapid transit too.

    Which then brings up the real problem, DEBT . . . but that is not spoken of in polite company is it!

  14. Tessa permalink
    December 12, 2012 7:10 am

    The one point that hasn’t been brought up in this discussion as of yet is that the Canada Line would be very difficult to extend at all. The end of the track in Richmond is single-tracked, whereas that would need to be made into double track, or you could create a sort of one-way loop around Richmond.

    Either way, this is an area where light metros simply don’t work that well. We don’t need to spend that kind of money going into sprawl, especially when dense areas of the region, including the Broadway corridor, as well as growing suburban downtowns, such as Surrey, are so desperately in need of rapid transit.

    Frankly, I think the George Massey tunnel is fine as is. Our mantra ought to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Oppose and only oppose. Traffic is already decreasing on Highway 99 year over year, and in time congestion will improve on its own, especially with peak oil. Buses can handle demand.

    • December 12, 2012 6:36 pm

      Fine as it is? Come join us in traffic 2 hours a day. Right now, I am at work because of traffic. its 5:30, I was off at 3:30 but its pointless to leave. So no, its not fine as is.
      Buses cannot handle the demand thats silly to assume that.

      • mike0123 permalink
        December 12, 2012 10:36 pm

        The car-moving capacity of freeways is low compared to the people-moving capacity of buses on freeways. See page 2-2 of the report:

        Places near freeways are usually poor trip generators because of noise, traffic, and pollution make areas around interchanges unpleasant, and because the freeway makes car travel convenient if it’s not too congested. The bus routes on highway 99 connect well to rapid transit on one end and fan out to a variety of low-density, typically suburban catchments far from the freeway after just one stop on the freeway. With some priority for buses to make the bus trip at least as fast and reliable as the driving trip, additional capacity on the freeway is available in the form of buses in the unlikely event that additional demand materializes.

      • Tessa permalink
        December 15, 2012 3:37 am

        yes, fine as is. And no, I’d rather not sit in traffic, so me and all those other people who don’t like traffic choose to live closer to where we work and avoid having to use that route. And because of all those individual decisions, traffic is currently decreasing in the tunnel.

        You build a new crossing there and you will see much more development in Ladner and Tsawwassen, more land taken out of the ALR, more sprawl, more traffic, more cars. And all those cars will just sit at the Oak Street Bridge instead of the George Massey Tunnel, which of course is the same size and isn’t being replaced. And we will have wasted billions of dollars on expanding a highway when the number of vehicles using that highway was decreasing year-over-year prior to construction, but due to expanded capacity then can increase, and in doing so we will have created a much bigger traffic congestion problem than existed before.

  15. December 13, 2012 3:23 pm

    As a frequent ferry user, I can tell you that transit as presently delivered is totally inadequate for the purpose for the great bulk of regular travellers. Beside the issue of frequency, transfer requirements, etc., most people going to Vancovuer Island and other islands usually transport lots of stuff with them. Further, once on-island, where other than Vancouver Island there is no transit at all, and the pattern of development is quite dispersed (i.e., rural), the private automobile is again usually the only choice. For those who walk on with their stuff on dollies and the like, a beater parked as close to the destination terminal is often a necessary option.

    Thinking we can afford a rail link to the terminals is truly a pipe dream.

    The only proven way to reduce demand for ferry travel is to do what has been done so effectively since the service has been “privatized” by the provincial Lgovernment under Gordon Campbell – raise fares to the point where people simply choose to visit or live elsewhere, killing the economies of island communities in the process.

  16. December 13, 2012 3:59 pm

    I should say the above is about getting to and from the Tsawwassen Terminal. Don’t know about Horseshoe Bay.

  17. Mr. Motorist permalink
    July 11, 2013 9:15 pm

    Wow! Yup… transit is the answer. It’s always the answer lately… unless you want to add “bikes” into the mix. What foresight! Let’s get more buses on the roads that don’t take you where you want to go unless you transfer and transfer again. Why should I be forced to use transit just because you think it’s the best thing for me. Are we in cold-war Russia or some other socialist country where I can’t make up my own mind? And why travel with such restrictions (on public transit) when you can enjoy the comfort and freedom (and privacy) of your own car. Actually… what a pity that people even entertain this transit nonsense. We need some good old-fashioned common sense back in our society. We need smart, sensible “real” people to see through this transit and bike nonsense. Twin the tunnel and build a proper (wider) expressway into the third largest metropolitan area in the country. Isn’t it time we grew up and brought ourselves into the 21st Century! If y’all want to take the bus and dwell on this “transit will solve all the problems” fantasy, be my guest. It’s the car for me for life!

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