The prospect for rail transit south of the Fraser River appears to be on track.
The province has included creating the potential for future rail as part of its goals in reviewing options for the George Massey Tunnel.
For Richmond councillor Harold Steves, the idea of having rail from his city to Delta, and eventually to White Rock, has been a long time coming.
“Forty-five years ago, it was seen as the major way of alleviating traffic at the tunnel,” Steves told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It’s just as true today.”
According to Steves, the concept was promoted by the governments of premiers Dave Barrett and Bill Vander Zalm, although it was never done.
“It’s time somebody else built it,” he said.
Steves recalled that when he was an MLA during the 1970s, he asked the Barrett government to look into light rail transit, or LRT, for Richmond. It was then more than a decade since tram service from Vancouver to Steveston in Richmond had been cancelled in 1958.
According to Steves, the minister of municipal affairs at the time, Jim Lorimer, had a study done that identified a route from Richmond to Delta as an addition to the George Massey Tunnel.
Steves went on to note that when Vander Zalm became premier he announced sometime around 1990 that the tunnel could be twinned for light rail.
“Right now, people are sitting in that traffic at that tunnel, they’ll drive into Richmond and they’ll park at [the Canada Line’s] Bridgeport Station and take the SkyTrain [to Vancouver],” Steves said. “So if the LRT went to Delta, you could probably cut that traffic by half, and so we’ve been promoting LRT for a long time.”
The Richmond councillor said that when the previous B.C. Liberal government announced a 10-lane bridge to replace the tunnel, it didn’t disclose that a study had determined that the crossing was too high for light rail. “You could put buses on, but that’s all, and there would be no LRT,” Steves said.
Richmond city planners have identified two options for the George Massey Tunnel, which was constructed in 1959, and both include future LRT. According to the city, an LRT line could extend from either the Bridgeport or Richmond-Brighouse station of the Canada Line to Delta and, eventually, farther south.
In September 2017, the B.C. NDP government stopped the construction of a $3.5-billion bridge replacement for the tunnel. The current administration ordered a technical review, which later found that a smaller, six-to eight-lane bridge or a new tunnel of up to eight lanes could work.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has released a new statement of principles and goals for a Massey crossing, which includes a provision to “ensure potential for future rail rapid transit”.
The revised statement was prepared in response to suggestions by the finance-and-intergovernment committee of Metro Vancouver.
“Metro Vancouver staff have reviewed the Province’s high level principles and goals for the George Massey Crossing project and note that they are generally in line with Metro Vancouver interests,” states a report by Neal Carley, general manager of planning and environment with the regional government.
The Metro Vancouver board is expected to endorse the province’s identified principles and goals for a south-of-the Fraser crossing at its meeting Friday (April 26).