Highway. 99 upgrades aim to ease congestion, but even fans see gaps

Work aims to support later construction of new Fraser River tunnel, but Liberals promise to pivot to bridge

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A project to ease congestion along Highway 99 and the Steveston Freeway leaves some wondering if those goals can be achieved.

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Transportation Minister Rob Fleming announced plans Friday for a dedicated bus lane from the Bridgeport Canada Line station in northern Richmond to nearby Highway 99.

This follows a recent announcement that work will begin before the end of the year to replace the two-lane Steveston Freeway overpass on the freeway. 99 near the Massey Tunnel with a five-lane structure that will include access to public transport stops and pedestrian and cycle links to the motorway. 99

Work is already underway to add dedicated bus lanes on the highway. 99 south of the Massey Tunnel as well as plans for a new multi-use pathway from the Oak Street Bridge to the Richmond Cycling and Pedestrian Network.

The total cost of these projects is estimated at $137 million, part of the $4.15 billion plan to replace the aging four-lane Massey Tunnel with a new eight-lane tunnel.

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“These improvements will provide people with options for public transit and active travel, which we know is a priority for this region,” Fleming said.

However, even some supporters say the plan has major flaws, while political opponents believe it ignores environmental demands and Indigenous concerns.

The Delta Chamber of Commerce supports efforts to reduce commuter bottlenecks, but its executive director, Jill McKnight, said Friday the provincial plan was incomplete.

“Although improvements are being made to allow buses to pass through the tunnel, we don’t have buses to connect, to get people to work and that is our concern,” she said.

McKnight said the improvements on the south side of the Fraser River do not address how cyclists and transit users will get to industrial areas and business parks in the area.

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“I would like to see an overall plan, how someone is going to use it to get around the area?” McKnight said. “I don’t know exactly where all the pieces are going to fit together. Are we going to have this unique piece with missing links? »

The mayors of Delta and Richmond, as well as the chairman of the board of directors of Metro Vancouver, joined the minister on Friday at the Bridgeport bus loop to show their support for the projects.

Delta Mayor George Harvie has hinted that he would like to see a faster turnaround, as well as expanded public transit.

“It is so important to do everything we can to reduce the delay and I know the Minister is working hard to achieve this,” he said. “We look forward to the day when Deltans can take a bus to work without having to wait long periods of time.”

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The road improvements are expected to be completed by 2025 and Fleming said these projects “will be fully compatible with the new eight-lane toll-free tunnel which will replace the current George Massey Tunnel”.

However, the new tunnel is not expected to be completed until 2030 and BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon has said he will scrap the NDP tunnel in favor of the former Liberal government’s plan for a bridge at 10 lane toll.

Fleming suggested that Falcon’s plan would be irresponsible.

“If Kevin Falcon keeps saying he’s going to cancel this project, when we’ve awarded contracts to move forward, when we’ve built infrastructure like the Steveston interchange, like bus lanes, he’s going to having to rip it up, it’s going to have to tear up contracts and it’s going to expose the taxpayer to more delays, more liability and no solution in the future,” he said.

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Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar said it had already cost taxpayers more than $100 million when the NDP canceled the former government’s plans to build a bridge.

He accused the NDP government of ignoring Indigenous and environmental concerns about a new tunnel.

“The Fraser River is an important salmon area and under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, these Indigenous communities must be duly consulted and give their consent to the replacement project,” Milobar said.

“The environmental review process is supposed to be exempt and free from political interference and what the minister spoke about on Friday shows very clearly that he believes and, by extension, the Prime Minister believes that no matter what says an environmental assessment or what the indigenous communities say, they’re building a tunnel.

Tsawwassen First Nation has publicly stated that it prefers a bridge for environmental reasons.

Fleming said details of an environmental review will be announced soon and the first round of public consultations will take place this spring.

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