Massey Tunnel safe despite multiple replicated inspection reports: Ministry

Reports confused over whether tunnel inspected annually or not

Massey Tunnel | Rob Kruyt

As debate continues over a new Fraser River crossing near the site of the current Massey Tunnel, inspection reports show only the tunnel approaches, not the tunnel itself, have been inspected by the government since at least 2016.

The documents, obtained by Glacier Media under access to information laws, show multiple cases of cement crumbling off flaking, exposed rebar, multiple cases of “extensive cracking” and blocked drains.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in a June 12 statement to Glacier Media that tunnel safety remains the government’s top priority and there is no risk to those using it.

“A routine inspection of the George Massey Tunnel is carried out every year where the inspector visually observes and records defects/damage with the assistance of binoculars and camera,” the ministry statement said. “A more detailed inspection is provided every five years.

“Conditions at tunnels change very slowly as they are not directly exposed to weather. They are exposed to road spray, which during the winter carries varying concentrations of salt. The damage observed by inspectors and documented in the inspection reports is expected for the age of the structure.”

Reports from 2016, 2017 and 2018, however, are word-for-word almost exactly the same, raising questions about inspections of the 60-year-old tunnel used by more than 80,000 vehicles a day.

Each report contains interior and exterior “condition” photos. The pictures included vary slightly between 2016 and 2017 but are exactly the same in the 2017 and 2018 reports.

And each contains a so-called urgency note calling for the same “minor structural repairs, minor safety concern” about a damaged railing and a need to repair sidewall areas to prevent rotting concrete from falling onto traffic.

That last concern is one Delta city council addressed as a safety concern to Premier John Horgan in August 2017, council minutes and reports show. The subsequent inspection report wording did not change after the Delta request.

Current Delta Mayor George Harvie wrote the city’s 2017 report to council while chief administrative officer.

“Mr. Harvie advised that immediate safety concerns with the tunnel include electrical system deficits, deteriorating concrete, frequent damage to the sprinkler system and an ageing ventilation system which is causing poor air quality in the tunnel,” Aug. 14, 2017, council minutes say.

The wording in the government reports on the condition of the roof do not vary from between the reports dated Sept. 14, 2016, July 29, 2017 and July 9, 2018.

The reports note vegetation growing in screening with recommendations each year that it be cleaned, flaking cement and exposed rebar, cracks with chloride staining, a wide crack and a medium crack in the roof of the westbound tube and cracks between tie plates between doors 9 and 10.

All three reports say the retaining walls on the have extensive cracking with some leakage.

In cases where resurfacing work was been done, whoever compiled the report merely removed numbered paragraphs but did not renumber the remaining paragraphs.

The inspections cover beams, the approaches and the interior of the tunnel.

Inspector J. Mollard’s name is on the 2016 report, while William Ngo’s name appears on the 2017 and 2018 reports. The provincial government phone directory lists Ngo as a bridge inspection technician in the Ministry of Transportation’s structural asset management unit.

Ngo, who stressed he is not an engineer, told Glacier Media the reason the reports are so similar is “that there is no change between the structure condition between those years.”

“For the most part, our inspections are limited to the approaches (except for various years where road closures are provided to inspect the interiors of the tunnel)… there is little change in the retaining walls, fences and roadways,” Ngo said.

“For the most part, concrete structures such as these that are not exposed to extremely harsh conditions do not deteriorate that fast. It would be extremely alarming for a structure that is built to have noticeable changes within three years. The tunnel itself is 60 years old now, and during that time has not seen any major structural deficiencies as far as I know.”

His comments stand in contrast to what is included a February 2017 report for the ministry on decommissioning the tunnel after the building of a replacement bridge.

Said that report, “The tunnel is inspected annually and subject to regular maintenance and repairs. The condition of the Tunnel is recorded on the Ministry’s Bridge Management Information System.”

An independent 2018 technical review of the tunnel done by North Vancouver’s Westmar Advisors said a retrofit was done with steel plates installed at the ends of the tunnel and the addition of reinforced concrete along its length to reduce the risk of cracks and related flooding.

However, that report said, “the tunnel is in good condition with a remaining service life in the order of 50 years.”

Cast-in-place concrete retaining walls along tunnel approaches show irregular surface cracking, especially near the top of walls, and the concrete has flaked from cross beams located over the tunnel entrances, that report said.

“This deterioration is considered to be reparable,” it said.

The tunnel was the second immersed-tube tunnel in the world after the Maastunnel in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The Maastunnel opened in 1942 and remains in used.

The February 2017 report said a 2000-2006 structural retrofit focused on improving crack distributions after cracking in the event of an earthquake.

“It was not aimed at preventing cracking due to seismic forces, buoyancy or post-liquefaction settlement, but will result in a better crack distribution. The crack pattern will be different from that of the existing structure,” the report said. “The retrofitted structure will have a smeared pattern of small cracks. Repairs to seal the cracks can be done on an ongoing basis as they occur and water leakage is likely to be manageable.”

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca