The Massey Tunnel under the Fraser River on Monday scored its third appearance in a row stretching back seven years as an election issue, and for people who admire audacity, this one was the best yet.
Something about that 60-year-old hole under the Fraser River brings out the worst in B.C.’s well-established tendency to argue major projects to death. The argument reached a new level of absurdity Monday morning, when the NDP reacted to B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s promise to put up a 10-lane, toll-free bridge over the river in no time flat.
The previous Liberal government was on the brink of pretty much that during the 2017 election, in the face of an endless round of arguments amongst local mayors with long lists of regional grudges.
When the NDP took over, then-transportation minister Claire Trevena did what every Fraser River commuter has been doing for years; she pumped the brakes hard. She suspended work on the job, using the old dodge “lack of consultation.” It looked a lot more like distaste at the prospect of continuing with a project that then-premier Christy Clark started.
A few months later, she ordered up an independent review, which delivered exactly what she wanted, a series of criticisms of the project, although there wasn’t much in the way of a definitive conclusion.
The review led to another consultation round about the options which included months of back-and-forth arguments amongst the mayors and other interested parties. All the while Trevena exuded empathy with the tens of thousands of people regularly caught in that bottleneck.
It was all supposed to come up with a conclusion as to what to do about the bottleneck — which is as acute for Vancouver-bound south Island travelers as it is for everyone else — by the end of this year. It looked like most of the interest groups were leaning towards a replacement tunnel. But as of the election call, after more than three years in office the NDP has nothing firm in the way of a plan to replace the old tunnel.
So what was the party’s official reaction to Wilkinson promise?
“Any change of course would risk major delays, risk losing federal financing, and set the project back years.”
The NDP even had the gall to say the project is “well underway.”
After driving through it on the weekend, it’s clear the only thing well underway is millions of dollars worth of repair work to extract years more service from the inadequate tunnel.
“Brighter, lighter conditions for Massey Tunnel,” was the headline on the last $19 million contract spent in May on the relic.
No decision has been made on what to do next. And anything other than a bridge is going to need major new environmental approvals that will stretch out for years.
So the party that stopped a job cold and stalled it for three years is accusing a party that wants to restart it of setting the project back years.
The Massey Tunnel could easily figure in three more election campaigns.
Wilkinson also showed a certain amount of nerve. He estimated the project under a Liberal government would take two or three years. Four or five is more like it.
Just So You Know: NDP Leader John Horgan followed the bridge caper later in the day with an announcement that turns the pandemic into a political issue. He promised free COVID-19 vaccine to anyone who wants it.
There is no vaccine and it’s not clear when one will be available.
The commitment is the first outright politicization of the COVID-19 response. If the election itself didn’t make clear the months of non-partisan cooperation regarding the pandemic are over, the free-to-all stand confirms it.