APE - Against Port Expansion in Delta, BC
Say NO to Roberts Bank Terminal 2
APE - Against Port Expansion in Delta, BC
Say NO to Roberts Bank Terminal 2
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Against Port Expansion in the Fraser Estuary BC

APE (Against Port Expansion in the Fraser Estuary BC) is a group of concerned citizens who recognize that plans for container terminal expansion on Roberts Bank (T2) will see the degradation of the quality of life for thousands of Lower Mainland residents; the industrialization of prime agricultural land; and the loss of globally-significant habitat for salmon, migrating birds and orca whales.

Risks of replacing the George Massey Tunnel with a Bridge

George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project Review

By Douglas George Massey son of the late George Massey after whom the tunnel was named. August 24, 2015

Recognizing that the Provincial Government is determined to replace the George Massey Tunnel with a high level bridge in the Fraser River Delta, I would like to provide the public with a few facts that I researched from publications over the life span of the tunnel.

Why was a tunnel built instead of a bridge in the first place?

 Here is some background and answers:

A tunnel was chosen because of the geology of the lower Fraser River delta.

The lower Fraser River Delta comprised of Richmond, Sea Island, Delta, Queensborough, Pitt Meadows, South Surrey and Vancouver, started to form about 10,000 years ago, just after the Ice Age when the upper Fraser River Basin consisting of 234,000 km² (57,822,658 acres) or (90 square miles) was covered in ice. The sea was as far inland as Pitt Lake and extended 15-23 km (9-14 miles) westward into the Gulf of Georgia. When the ice melted off the upper Fraser basin, the materials of sand, gravel and clay flowed into the Gulf of Georgia at the rate of 3400 cm³/S (120,069 cubic feet per second) creating some 1000 km² (247,105 acres) of delta, with depth of anywhere from 500 m (1500 feet) to 1000 m (3000 feet), above bedrock.

Bogs and marshland were formed. The materials within them were rich in nutrients and energy, supporting the greatest salmon bearing river in the world and largest population of wintering wildfowl. Dikes were built to contain the materials, creating the most productive agricultural lands in Canada, doing  this took up about 80 % of the Fraser delta, leaving only 20% to support the ecosystem of the Lower Fraser River. According to a Sediment Management in Lower Fraser River document of March 30, 2010, the natural flow of sediments down the Fraser River must be maintained in order to support that ecosystem and any premature removal of these materials whether it is sand or gravel must be continuously monitored to insure the survival of that ecosystem.

The George Massey Tunnel was designed and built by Christiani &Nielson Corporation from Denmark, the same people who built the Maas tunnel in Rotterdam, Netherlands 1937-1942. The difference was that the Maas tunnel had a tube for bicycles and pedestrians whereas our tunnel did not, even though it was proposed in 1947.

George Massey Tunnel was completed in 1959 at a cost of $16,600,000 which is just over $35 million in today’s dollars. The George Massey tunnel was built on 600 meters (1969 ft.) of sediment (sand) on top of bedrock as there was insufficient footing for a high level bridge.

Building the Maas River Tunnel proved to be more attractive financially than a bridge because the cost of building a bridge high enough would be prohibitive in order to avoid hindering the passage of ships to and from the largest port in Europe, Rotterdam. Port Metro Vancouver is calling for a 65 meter (213 feet) high bridge instead of the design proposed of 57 meters (187 feet).

In 2006 seismic upgrading of the George Massey Tunnel was completed at a cost of $20 million dollars. It consisted of making the 6 tunnel sections into one steel reinforced tube, attached to the ventilating towers on either side of the Fraser River. This would insure that the tunnel would not collapse if the underlying layer of sand was to liquefy. The pumping and emergency power systems were upgraded as well. In addition in 2009 an early warning system called “Shake Alarm” was installed on the George Massey Tunnel capable of detecting earthquakes with seconds to minutes of warning time, designed to close the gates at either end of the tunnel so that no one can enter if a dangerous quake was inbound, and those already inside can exit as normal before any shaking or movement begins.

Further improvements costing another $17 million were scheduled for the George Massey Tunnel that would have improved the seismic protection around the approaches and the replacement of the ventilating equipment, but were cancelled when the government announced a new bridge crossing. A bridge that was to be 57 meters (187 feet) high, built on footings on top of 600 meters (1969 feet) of sand over bedrock, right near the present tunnel. One would have to ask how much safer this would be for a bridge, when studies showed that liquefaction would remove the sand from under the tunnel leaving it with no support despite being seismically upgraded.

The Alex Fraser Bridge is anchored on bedrock on one side of the Fraser River and supported on sand on the other side, leaving it also vulnerable to seismic liquefaction. In 1959 a Fraser Delta Geology: Hazard Assessment study by the provincial government stated that seismic upgrading was needed for all construction in the Fraser Delta, even the highways leading to our river crossings would be subject to seismic movement. To date there is no direct measurement of seismic vulnerability of the Fraser delta from strong motion recording.

The George Massey Tunnel was built below the Fraser River bottom and has at low water 33 feet (10m) over 1400 feet on either side of middle of channel and 42 feet (12.8 meters) over 700 feet over the middle of channel. At the time it was built it was deeper than all navigable river channels in the world.

Dredging of the Lower Fraser River to 11.5 meters with a minimum 2 hour window year round currently costs Port Metro Vancouver $15 million a year; they recoup only $10 million by selling the sand to cement makers and road builders. To deepen the Lower Fraser River to the 13.5 meters (44 feet) proposed by the Provincial Government was estimated as a onetime cost of $175 million, which does not include the increased costs to maintain this depth. The provincial government did not mention the cost of removing the George Massey Tunnel or the lowering of any existing utility crossings.  Nor was there any mention of the reinforcing of the dikes of Richmond and Delta.

In 2007, the provincial government (Pacific Gateway Strategy Action Plan) advocated the removal of the George Massey Tunnel and to deepen the Lower Fraser River channel to 13.5 meters (44 feet) so they can create a deep sea shipping channel and make the Lower Fraser River into a deep sea port facility right up to and beyond New Westminster. In order to recoup the costs of dredging to maintain the deeper channel, they proposed to reclaim marshland around the present islands in the Fraser and build more islands at the mouth of the Fraser for industrial purposes.  All this despite the fact that Port Metro Vancouver says that the George Massey Tunnel presently does not protrude above the Fraser River bed and the Steveston cut is more of a problem and the cost of removing the tunnel, lowering existing utilities and deepening the river would be extensive and potentially cost prohibitive.

In a report called “Sediment Management in Lower Fraser River on March 20, 2010” it stated “Sediment removal that is not properly planned and/or executed can have immediate and serious adverse effects on fish population” and there should be a long term management programme initiated before additional sediment is removed by gravel or sand dredging.            

The grade through the George Massey Tunnel is only 1:30 while the grade on the new bridge at 57 meters (187 feet) high is 5:0. The lower grade of a tunnel rather than a bridge would result in less fuel consumption for commuters. BC Hydro has recently announced that it is already seeking a new river crossing for the present transmission line that runs through the George Massey Tunnel and supplies power to Richmond, Delta and other parts of Greater Vancouver. This will result in greater expense to taxpayers.

The George Massey Tunnel built in 1959 has many years of life left regardless of what the Provincial Government wants us to believe. In 2006 the provincial government spent $20 million for seismic upgrades, and installed a seismic “shakeproof” early warning seismic system, and planned to spend another $20 million for further upgrades to the ventilation and seismic upgrading around the approaches. In comparison, the Maas tunnel that was built in 1937-42 using the similar construction materials and methods of construction will be spending millions of dollars on a large scale renovation that will start in 2017 and conclude in 2019 to meet modern tunnel standards.

One would think that if the Dutch are willing to spend millions to renovate their 75 year old tunnel that the additional upgrades proposed the George Massey Tunnel, being only 55 years old, could still be upgraded and last for many more useful years and retain and maintain a close tie with the business and residential core of Richmond.

In conclusion, my point is that it would seem that building another modern tunnel near the present one would be faster and safer to build. All parts could be built and purchased locally, have minimal disruption to the Fraser River and a greater resistance to seismic activity, than a high level bridge.

Further Richmond Council have stated that they would like to keep the tunnel and use it for another purpose, and they were opposed to any dredging to make the river deeper because of the ramifications it would have on the Fraser River’s ecosystem that supports the fish and wildfowl of the Fraser River, agricultural land and as well create the need for extensive dike reconstruction.

It is ironic that this and previous Richmond Councils were also the strongest supporters when my father George Massey was advocating a new crossing to the extent they installed a monument on their side of the tunnel recognizing George Massey’s achievement.

My reference sources are as follows:                     

1. Proposed Crossing of the Fraser River at Ladner, B.C. by Christiani & Nielsen Corporation, April 10, 1947.
2. Sustainable Dredging Program of the Lower Fraser River, Aug. 7, 2007.
3. Fraser River Dredging (Fraser Port Authority) Aug. 7, 2007#4. Fraser Delta Geology Hazard Assessment Nov. 1995
4. Sediment Management in Lower Fraser River, March 20, 2010
5. Sedimentary environments post glacial history of Fraser Delta, March 18, 1983
6. Journal of Commerce Sept 7, 2009 article British Columbia’s Massey Tunnel was a cutting-edge endeavor.
7. Vancouver Sun article May 22, 2025 Port Metro wants Massey bridge higher to allow biggest LNG tankers: documents.
8. Article T&T North America march 2006: Seismic upgrade for Massey Tunnel
9. Delta Geology: Hazard Assessment November 1995 in the BC Professional Engineer.
10. Article George Massey Tunnel by Buckland & Taylor February 2015.
11. Letter from Port Metro Vancouver July 2015.
12. Article on Shakealarm June 2015 from Wikipedia.
13. Articles Maas tunnel; Rotterdam Wikipedia March 10, 2011
14. Sedimentary environments and postglacial history of the Fraser Delta and the lower Fraser Valley, March 18, 1983.
15. Article by Kenaidan Contracting Ltd. Re: Seismic upgrade George Massey Tunnel.
16. Massey Tunnel Project article April 16, 2013 by Richmond Garden City Conservation.
17. Sediment Management in Lower Fraser River March 30, 2010.
18. Articles on construction, maintenance and replacement George Massey Tunnel June 9, 2015 WIKI 2- Wikipedia Republished.
19. Vancouver Port Authority, Roberts Bank Container Expansion Coastal Geomorphology Study-Appendix C November 2004.
20. Article Business Vancouver April 21, 2014. Plan for deeper dredging in Fraser River could have high environmental price.
21. Request for proposal Fraser River annual maintenance dredging, August 18, 2010
22. Article Richmond Review Aug. 13, 2015 Province keeps Richmond in dark


Ports Own Stats Fail to Prove Business Case

Port Metro Vancouver’s (PMV) Robin Silvester continues to use smoke and mirrors to try and justify that the environmental destruction of Roberts Bank is necessary to handle Canadian cargo, but the Port’s own statistics (to the extent that they are willing to share them) simply don’t add up.

The 2014 Overseas Shipping Consultants Market Study prepared for PMV showed that in 2008 (the year before the Financial Crisis), PMV handled 2.34 million TEU of Canadian cargo.  By Mr. Silvester’s own admission in the Aug 26 Delta Optimist article, US Rail volumes will account for 25% of PMV’s total throughput in 2015.  Based on July 2015 statistics, PMV will handle 3.06 million TEU in total this year, so the US Rail volumes (25%) will represent over 765,000 TEU, meaning PMV will be handling about 2.295 million TEU of Canadian traffic in 2015.  This is LESS than the 2.34 million TEU of Canadian cargo that PMV handled way back in 2008!

 TEUs (container volumes)











CDN Traffic










US Traffic






























Overseas Shipping Consultants 2014 Report – table 8.1
Robin Silvester – Delta Optimist Article Aug 26 2015
PMV 2015 Container Statistics – annualized for 2015

And yet, despite these hard statistics showing that there has been 0% growth in Canadian traffic through PMV between 2008 and 2015, Robin Silvester claims in the article that “the underlying Canadian growth is above the four per cent we're looking at”.

PMV appears to be trying to create the illusion of a business case, but it is not working. If you look at the facts the business case simply doesn’t exist. 

Against Port Expansion opposes the T2 project because of the massive environmental damage that will be inflicted on Roberts Bank, but our group is willing to go “toe to toe” with PMV and Robin Silvester to prove to the Canadian public that aside from the massive environmental damage that this project would cause, there is simply no economic need for this project for decades to come, if ever.

To read the Delta Optimist Article click here



Latest APE Newsletter

We have just published our latest newsletter.

Included in the newsletter is further information on the progress of the Federal Enivonmental Assessment, a critique of Port Metro Vancouver's Enivonmental Impact Statement for Roberts Bank Terminal 2 and further information on where T2 container volumes might come from were this new terminal ever to be built.

 Read it here.


T2 not needed for Canadian Container Traffic

It is becoming increasinlgy evident that the expansion of Port Metro Vancouver's container business is mostly coming from the movement of US containers - both inbound and out bound. Without this US traffic Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) simply cannot justify builiding a second container terminal on Roberts Bank.

A recent letter in the Delta Optimist highlighted this. http://www.delta-optimist.com/news/goods-through-deltaport-headed-to-u-s-1.1981775

As the letter points out handling US containers does nothing for the Canadian economy. In delving deeper into this topic what we find is that in 2015 West Coast Canadian Ports will handle over one million US containers, with Port Metro Vancouver handling the majority of these US containers. Furthermore PMV's business case for building a second container terminal is partly justified on the handling of even more US containers than they are today. This finding is supported by a number of articles in industry journals.For example one recent article in "Canadian Shipper" states the following:

“According to a study of U.S. West Coast port volumes by UK-based firm Ocean Shipping Consultants, Vancouver has joined Prince Rupert as a major competitor to the Puget Sound ports of Tacoma and Seattle for U.S. imports. U.S. importers are rapidly moving more containers through Port Metro Vancouver and to Chicago and the upper Midwest, dealing another blow to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.  The share of Vancouver’s containerised imports moving to the U.S. expanded from 7.5 per cent in 2008 to 22.9 per cent in 2013, according to Newark’s Journal of Commerce." 

PMV's handling of US containers hurts US ports, such as Seattle and Tacoma that would love to be handling this business. It does nothing for the Canadian economy.

What does all this tell us. If Port Metro Vancouver stuck to its mandate "To facilitate Canada’s trade objectives, ensuring goods are moved safely, while protecting the environment and considering local communities" and.focused its efforts on handling Canadian containers then there would be no need to build a second container terminal on Roberts Bank.