Finance Minister Selina Robinson said gov’t is working with Indigenous groups, regional mayors before presenting business case for tunnel fix.

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Frustrated commuters snarled in the aging George Massey Tunnel will have to wait longer for a replacement as Tuesday’s provincial budget offered up no money for the beleaguered project.

The NDP government has been dragging its feet on a fix for the bottleneck between Richmond and Delta since 2017, when they scrapped the previous Liberal government’s plan to build a 10-lane, $3.5 billion bridge across the Fraser River.

Garry Shearer, executive director of the Delta Chamber of Commerce, said the budget showed that the NDP government has no appetite to charge ahead on shovel-ready projects like the tunnel.

The delay has taken an economic toll on Delta, Shearer said, as industrial businesses struggle to recruit skilled workers who balk at the snail’s-pace commute. He points out that traffic will get even worse once the Vancouver Port Authority moves ahead with plans to expand the Roberts Bank superport.

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“The impact to our community South of the Fraser is unbelievable,” Shearer said. “If the government doesn’t take a courageous view of building infrastructure — build it and they will come — then we’re going to be second-class citizens for a significant amount of time. We need that political leadership to say this crossing is critical, it’s important to the future of the Lower Mainland.”

The Ministry of Transportation had promised to publicly release its business case on the tunnel replacement by the end of 2020 but it has still not said whether the replacement will be an eight-lane bridge or an eight-lane tunnel.

“It’s so frustrating,” Shearer said. “Thousands-and-thousands of pages that have been written on the business case for this crossing. We know how to build bridges. Let’s get on with it.”

B.C. Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said lack of action on the tunnel replacement “is just another exampleofhowthisgovernmenthaslostsightofimportantpriorities. Itisabout commutersstuckintraffic everysingleday,” Bond said. The project was a mere footnote in the budget, Bond said, which is “not good enough for commuters in the Lower Mainland.”

There was also no dedicated funding for the eight-station Surrey-Langley SkyTrain expansion project despite Premier John Horgan’s campaign promise that the NDP would kick in $1.5 billion to fund it.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson said in her budget speech on Tuesday that “our plan also lays the foundation for the new Surrey-Langley SkyTrain all the way to Langley and a toll-free crossing to replace the George Massey Tunnel.”

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Robinson said Wednesday that the government is committed to both projects and that money in the budget is set aside once plans are finalized. On the tunnel, Robinson said the province is working closely with Indigenous groups and regional mayors before presenting the final decision on whether a bridge or tunnel will be constructed.

“But what we have done in this budget is set aside resources to get this thing built so that we’re ready to go (once the business case is finalized),” she said.

Robinson said the province is in touch with the federal government on both infrastructure projects to secure financial support.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the last election campaign to earmark federal dollars for the tunnel replacement.

Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, who is the MP for Delta, said in a statement Wednesday that the federal government received a draft business case for the replacement project from the province last week.

“The George Massey Tunnel is a national and international trade corridor that is essential to our regional and federal economies,” said Qualtrough. “As a resident of Delta and the member of Parliament, I have long advocated for a plan to replace this vital piece of infrastructure that so many of us rely on every single day.”

Colleen Clark, CEO of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, said she’s encouraged that Robinson mentioned the SkyTrain project in the budget speech, and expects the province is waiting for a funding commitment from the federal government. Clark said money from Ottawa could be announced by the federal Liberal government if Trudeau calls an election.

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Clark noted there’s already a federal, provincial, and municipal funding agreement for the SkyTrain line between King George Station and the Fleetwood area of Surrey but no specific funding for the expansion from Surrey to Langley Centre, expected to cost $1.5 billion.

“I think we know it’s coming, we know it’s in the cards,” Clark said.

The government budgeted $41.3 billion this year for major capital projects, up from $33.8 billion last year. However, $5.3 billion of the $7.5 billion increase was as a result of the ballooning cost of the Site C dam, which now carries a $16 billion price tag. 

kderosa@postmedia.com
Twitter.com/katiederosayyj

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