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Les Leyne: NDP government blacks out interesting parts of Massey Tunnel report

In olden times, when media had a sensational photo of someone but weren’t allowed to identify them, the editors would paste a clumsy black stripe over the eyes then run it anyway.
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Many Vancouver Islanders are familiar with the Massey Tunnel from using it to travel from Tsawwassen ferry terminal into downtown Vancouver and other parts of Metro Vancouver. VANCOUVER SUN

In olden times, when media had a sensational photo of someone but weren’t allowed to identify them, the editors would paste a clumsy black stripe over the eyes then run it anyway.

You’d get a taste of something scandalous going on, but not the whole picture. You don’t see it that much anymore (insert ­wistful emoji here).

But the NDP government is keeping the tradition alive. They broke out the black markers in order to protect themselves from scrutiny of the plan to replace the Massey Tunnel.

Gobs of black are smeared all over the business plan that was belatedly released recently. It came months after the announcement that the tunnel under the Fraser River would be replaced with a bigger tunnel.

The previous provincial government, under the B.C. Liberals, had a 10-lane bridge all set to go. After the NDP took over in 2017, they froze it, dithered for four years, then finally last summer committed to an eight-lane tunnel plan that may open to traffic in 2030.

When you look at the business plan posted quietly by the Transportation Ministry ­(Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer discovered it this week), it’s like your monitor goes dark at certain points. By incredible coincidence, it’s mostly over bits the context suggests are the interesting ones.

It’s like watching Game of Thrones and coming to that pivotal battle episode that was filmed entirely in the dark.

All the boring stuff in the report is left intact. You can read how “the ratio of quantified user benefits to agency costs provides the benefit cost ratio for each option.”

But key data got censored. Factors comparing the tunnel idea to a bridge concept are ­hidden. Same with indicators of how reliable the estimates are.

The information is still there. You just can’t see it. Everything censored was judged commercially sensitive information.

Some data is surrendered. The benefit cost ratio is .72 for the NDP tunnel versus .67 for the bridge. Whatever that means.

The plan says the tunnel wins on esthetics, noise and light ­levels. It needs much more land, but less of it is agricultural compared to a bridge. In a long list of other comparisons, however, they seem to come out pretty even.

The plan says the bridge would have been built 18 months quicker, which you’d think was a crucial factor, given how long the NDP stalled the project. It would also disrupt the river less than a tunnel. But the plan says those factors are outweighed by longer-term benefits.

There’s a lot of data in the business plan. But time and time again, the black marker stops you in your tracks (just like the old tunnel does). Discussion on what kind of labour agreement it would take ends in five black lines. The risk analysis concludes there are (blank) risks. (Blank) of them relate to procurement and (blank) apply to all models. The summary of risk is 29 blacked-out lines.

Four value-for-money graphics are blacked out. The projected cash flow summary for the next ten years is blacked out.

Still, the sorry pre-history of this job shines clear. The ­previous government was on the brink of signing contracts to get a 10-lane bridge built for $3.6 billion by 2022, with indications it could come in for less.

Then the NDP cancelled it (incurring $100 million in costs) and retained consultants to spend a few years telling them what to do next.

The government did succeed in getting all the regional municipal factions to support the tunnel, something the Liberals gave up on. But crucial First Nations interests favoured a bridge, not a tunnel. So now they are on the outs.

The tunnel, along with four related corridor projects, is budgeted for $4.3 billion and will take four more years of permitting before work begins. So we only have to drive the old tunnel for nine more years before we get to enjoy a new one.

Just So You Know: If the photogs in the distant future catch any NDP officials at the ribbon-cutting for this over-studied, stupendously-delayed political botch, here’s hoping the editors break out those black stripes again.

lleyne@timescolonist.com