Sunday, February 19, 2017

Below is a transcript of a letter to the editor of The Optimist (Feb. 17) from Todd Stone, Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure. My (slightly edited) response, sent to both The Optimist and the Richmond News follows.
Re: Former premier says bridge is a bad idea, Feb. 8

Recently, Mike Harcourt has been suggesting that a twinned tunnel is the best option to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel. This is simply not borne out by the facts, or by the opinions of the thousands of consultation participants that took the time to share their views over a period of more than four years.
The existing 60-year-old tunnel does not meet current seismic standards, nor can it be brought up to current standards without risk of damage, which could render the crossing unusable. This same risk would require that a "twin tunnel" be built much farther upstream (or downstream) to avoid risk of damage during construction.

As a result, compared to building a new bridge, construction of a new (or twin) tunnel would take more agricultural land, would be more difficult and risky to construct, would be more environmentally invasive and require more long-term maintenance.

It would be more seismically vulnerable if the old tunnel was retained. And it certainly could not be done for the $1.7 billion Harcourt suggests.

Harcourt also suggests the bridge project will cost $4.7 billion, rather than $3.5 billion, citing an Oxford study on international transportation projects from 2003 that found bridge projects over the previous 50 years were on average 30 per cent over budget. What he didn't relay while advocating for a tunnel was that the same study has tunnel projects worldwide at more than 48 per cent over

More importantly, the study he references is from nearly 15 years ago, and our experience with major infrastructure projects means we are much more accurate with our estimates than before 2003. I'll point to the recently finished and opened Evergreen Line to reinforce this point: We built that line $75 million under its $1.43 billion budget - despite the many challenges we faced along the way.
I am confident we will build the Massey replacement bridge within the $3.5 billion budget.
Harcourt also suggests we wait 20 years to fix the worst traffic bottleneck in B.C., while the population continues to grow. That is simply not an option.

I do agree with Harcourt that traffic congestion and bottlenecks, among other things, are harming our economic future. That's why our government has taken action, by replacing the Port Mann, and by adding the South Fraser Perimeter Road, Canada Line and Evergreen Line. We've also recently announced plans to add capacity to the Alex Fraser, and improve Highway 1 through North Vancouver.

Thank your Mr. Stone for once again weighing in with your version of alternative facts. (Optimist Feb 17)
Your response to Michael Harcourt’s opinion piece is questionable at best. You start by talking about “thousands of consultation participants”. Your public consultation process has been little more than one way window dressing. Your original five replacement “scenarios” were so flawed that all led to the bridge as a choice. Never during this period of “public input” was any kind of constructive criticism acknowledged.

Your comments on the seismic safety of the tunnel directly opposes Victoria’s position in 2006. On February 16, 2006 Minister Kevin Falcon is quoted to say “the plan is to twin the tunnel”. This was after a $20 million seismic upgrade was completed.  All information about twinning plans has since been removed from government documents through your triple delete actions. This has been confirmed through an FoI request.
To suggest that the tunnel is prone to fail with construction of a second tunnel is to belittle the danger your bridge tower construction poses to the tunnel. The tunnel is far more likely to fail during the construction of the bridge. Any support for the planned towers will present a serious problem to the tunnel.

You go on to talk about the loss of farmland. You cannot possibly have us believe you when you claim that your present plan actually creates more farmland. Your claims are laughed at by any farmer who looks at them seriously.
You suggest that building a second tunnel will be more environmentally invasive. Again, this is highly questionable when you have yet to decide how to support the bridge towers. Secondly it brings out the falsehood of your oft repeated comment that you will not dredge the Fraser. The Port has plans to dredge the Fraser (again, confirmed through the FoI process). The only obstacle is the Massey Tunnel. Once removed The Port will dredge the Fraser. The dredging will wreak havoc with the eco system of the Fraser and the Estuary. The harm done will reach far beyond the Fraser River.

As for the price tag of the tunnel as an alternative; your lack of due diligence or an appropriate business plan would refute your claim. A six lane tunnel 18 km long is presently being built in Europe for $8 billion. This tunnel will house 4 lanes of traffic and two lanes for transit.
While speaking on the issue of costs, you claim that your estimates have improved since 2003. Let me remind you that the incredible cluster fuddle of the FPR was estimated at less than $700 million. The final price-tag was almost double that at $1.26 billion.

Yes the Fraser crossing needs to be improved. Let’s do it responsibly and not build this bridge. Please, let’s stick to the real facts. And, please, show us how you came to the facts and figures. How can you criticize Mike Harcourt's figures when you have never shown us any comparative analysis?

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