Bridge tendering announced for George Massey Tunnel replacement

Metro Vancouver mayors still hope to stop the $3.5 billion, 10-lane bridge project scheduled to begin in 2017

The project to replace the George Massey Tunnel was originally estimated to cost $3 billion | Rob Kruyt

The Crown corporation in charge of the Port Mann toll bridge is looking for a private concessionaire to design, build, partially finance, operate, maintain and rehabilitate the bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel.

A request for qualifications, published June 28, set an August 3 deadline for bids. The document said the government expects to have a short list of “up to three respondents” by September and announce a winner in winter or spring.

The concession would last 30 years.

The government has said it wants to begin construction in 2017 and complete the structure by 2022.

The10-lane bridge project includes two transit/carpool lanes, replacement of three interchanges and five overpasses (including the Westminster Highway, Steveston Highway and Highway 17A interchanges), widening and building of 50 kilometres of lanes between Bridgeport Road in Richmond and Highway 91 in Delta, decommissioning and removal of the 1959-opened tunnel, traffic management, relocation of utilities, and tolling infrastructure.

A project brief said the concessionaire is expected to be responsible for $750 million in financing. The arrangement will include performance incentives for quality, traffic, communications and environmental management.

The document said that if the concession agreement is executed and delivered, each losing proponent will be paid a $2 million stipend. All bidders will be paid up to $2 million in termination fees if the process is cancelled.

When it was announced in 2013, the project was pegged at $3 billion. Last fall, the budget was updated to $3.5 billion.

The Port Mann project was initially estimate to cost $1.5 billion, but the final bill was $3.2 billion.

After a 2007 request for proposals, the government shortlisted three groups – Connect BC, Gateway Mobility Partners and Highway 1 Transportation Group – for the Port Mann project. Connect BC was chosen.

Australian financier Macquarie Group (Nasdaq:MCQEF) suffered in the 2008 credit crunch and dropped out, so the government, via the Transportation Investment Corp., proceeded as the funder with Kiewit/Flatiron as builder.

Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver mayors said June 29 that they still hoped to stop the project. They resolved to write a letter to Transportation Minister Todd Stone to oppose it, “based on its analysis regarding the direct, indirect, and cumulative regional impacts of the project, and its ongoing concerns about an inadequate stakeholder input process and insufficient access to background technical analysis.”

The mayors point to what they say are the government’s shaky assumptions, lack of analysis of alternatives and information missing from the project business case.

“The breakdown of project costs is redacted in the original business case from October 2015, so the amount of construction plus contingency is unknown as is the interest during construction and the decommissioning of the tunnel,” said the Metro Vancouver report. “If contingencies are insufficient, project costs could well exceed the stated amount of $3.5 billion. As well, there is a lack of clarity related to the calculation of the present value of net project costs, including whether there have been any deductions incorporated into the calculation of the net amount.”

A June 2 report by City of Richmond said the municipality has a lengthy list of concerns, ranging from Highway 99 widening and impacts on farmland and relocation of the BC Hydro transmission line to bridge tolling and congestion of the Oak Street Bridge.

“The city notes the change in direction from upgrading the tunnel to building a bridge. Until announcing the bridge project in 2012, the publicized intention of the [ministry] was to improve and/or expand the tunnel. Should the project to improve the existing crossing at the Fraser River go ahead, council’s preference is for an upgraded and/or expanded tunnel instead of a new bridge.”