Metro Vancouver decides immersed tube option superior to bridge

19 August 2021

In a bid to resolve one of Metro Vancouver’s most notorious traffic bottlenecks, the Province of British Columbia, Canada is planning a new eight-lane immersed-tube tunnel to replace the George Massey Tunnel on Highway 99.

Scheduled for operation in 2030 and estimated to cost around US$3.25bn, the new eight-lane tunnel was chosen over a bridge option because it limits visual, noise, shading and lighting impacts; has the fewest impacts on agricultural land and will not introduce navigational restrictions on the Fraser River; best facilitates the movement of trucks and cyclists with a much lower overall elevational change; and provides protection from inclement weather for everyone using the crossing.

Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure said: “A new crossing to replace the George Massey Tunnel will improve traffic flow and make travel by transit, walking and cycling more convenient and attractive, without costing commuters hundreds of dollars a year in unfair tolls.”

Two of the tunnel’s eight traffic lanes will be dedicated to rapid bus transit, and there will also be separate pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. The result will be a toll-free crossing that the BC government hopes will improve transit, cycling and walking connections across the Fraser River, and aligns with regional interests.

“This new crossing will ensure a strong and reliable connection along one of British Columbia’s most important trade corridors, while also providing people and families with more choices about how they travel in their day-to-day lives,” said Bowinn Ma, Minister of State for Infrastructure. “Dedicated transit lanes and fully-separated active transportation pathways are an exciting addition that will give more people safe and competitive alternatives to travelling by car.”

Although the Province of BC will build the tunnel, it is hoping for Federal funding for a project which it sees as enhancing a nationally significant transportation corridor. The Province has already started work to reduce traffic congestion by launching projects to improve transit and cycling infrastructure along the Highway 99 corridor.

The existing 629m-long George Massey tunnel was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1959. Because it was the first tunnel in North America to be built using immersed tube technology, there was a shortage of companies on the continent who could undertake the work. This proved to be a greater challenge than the construction work itself. In the end, six reinforced-concrete immersed sections measuring 105m x 24m x 7m were used to construct the tunnel which is divided into two two-lane highways.