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George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project – An Emergency Response Perspective

Nov 08, 2016

Office of Mayor Lois E. Jackson

Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, George V. Harvie


For immediate release - November 8, 2016

Delta, BC – Since its announcement by Premier Christy Clark in September 2013, the Province of British Columbia and the Corporation of Delta have provided considerable evidence in support of the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project. It is important to highlight some additional considerations from an emergency response perspective. 

During the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) annual convention in September 2016, Mayor Lois E. Jackson, Chief Administrative Officer George V. Harvie, Police Chief Neil Dubord, and members of Council met with staff from the Premier’s Office to discuss the Project, providing additional information regarding the difficulties faced by first responders in and around the tunnel.

The briefing paper prepared by Delta staff highlighted research findings, including statistics and examples of incidents in or near the tunnel. These incidents identified heavy traffic congestion in the tunnel and on the tunnel approach and exit, as well as a lack of shoulder lane, as major obstacles preventing first responders from reaching accidents in a timely manner. For example, in one instance firefighters were sent to respond to a north-bound head-on collision between a bus and SUV. The fire engine was unable to get close to the accident so the jaws-of-life and power unit had to be carried on foot to the incident scene where one person was extracted from a vehicle.

The confined nature of the tunnel also provides significant health and safety concerns for emergency personnel entering the area, especially if it is filled with smoke from an accident. In one case, a vehicle fire occurred north-bound in the tunnel and heavy black smoke was coming out of the tunnel entrance. The two firefighters sent to retrieve the person trapped inside the burning car were delayed in bringing the necessary equipment, and also were both required to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus.  

Statistically, as noted in the briefing, the George Massey Tunnel has a significantly higher accident rate than the rest of Highway 99. Furthermore, when they do occur, vehicular accidents in tunnels tend to be more severe and result in significant injury or death more frequently than accidents on open roads. A bridge, with extra lanes and shoulder lanes, would provide emergency vehicles access to accidents, improving response time and accessibility to victim care. In the event of an accident, the complete closure of a multi-lane bridge is far less likely than tunnel closure, since there are alternative routes around the scene. As one of the main connectors to the ports and United States, any type of closure to the George Massey Tunnel would dramatically restrict the movement of goods and people to and from the Metro Vancouver region.

In the event of a major disaster, such as an earthquake, there are several reasons in favour of replacing the current tunnel with a bridge. Although seismic upgrades to the George Massey Tunnel were completed in the early 2000s, these upgrades were designed to withstand smaller earthquakes. The current state of the tunnel could not withstand a major earthquake and it is not feasible to upgrade it to modern seismic standards. Currently, the tunnel has approximately ten years before major components need to be replaced. An earthquake could potentially sever access to the George Massey Tunnel, a major transportation artery for Delta and the entire region, for an extended duration. In terms of disaster management, limited to no access to the tunnel could create significant social and economic issues, compounding upon stressors that already come with disaster relief and recovery.

The George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project will benefit our community, and provide improved emergency response capabilities and faster response times for fire, police and ambulance. Mayor Lois E. Jackson and Delta Council will continue to advocate for the replacement of the George Massey Tunnel with a bridge, and look forward to the start of the project.

View the staff report and associated documents.

For more information on this news release, contact the Mayor’s Office at 604-946-3210 or email mayor@delta.ca, or contact the CAO’s office at 604-946-3212 or email cao@delta.ca.