11/28/2012 12:05 EST | Updated 01/28/2013 05:12 EST

Massey Tunnel replacement public consultation begins

The first phase of consultation begins today on what should replace the George Massey Tunnel, with the launch of a new website and several open houses scheduled for the coming weeks.

According to the Minister of Transportation Mary Polak, there are many options on the table — from refurbishing and expanding the existing tunnel, to building a new bridge.

"We are at the very beginning. We are exploring with the public just exactly what type of project this should be," she said.

"Should it be another tunnel or should it be a bridge, or maybe even should it be placed on another site?"

The Massey Tunnel crosses under the Fraser River between Richmond and Delta, south of Vancouver. It is a major thoroughfare for commuters south of the Fraser heading into Vancouver.

The provincial government announced plans to replace the crossing in September, but it is expected it will be at least a decade before any replacement is opened.

NDP Transportation critic Harry Bains says the government is making pre-election promises it can't pay for.

"On one hand you have the finance minister saying that we don't have money. And on the other hand they continue to spend money. The money they tell us they don't have," said Bains.

But Polak says the provincial government will find the money for the new project in its capital spending plans.

Residents anxious for replacements

For residents like Keith Knoblauch, who lives in Ladner and works in Richmond, replacing the Massey Tunnel is long overdue.

"Being a resident out here for over 20 years, you get used to timing your trips through. You purposely avoid peak times because otherwise, if you are a single occupant, you are sitting for a long time and and it's ridiculous. It should have been replaced a long time ago."

Open houses on the project will be held in Delta, Richmond and Surrey from Dec. 1 to Dec. 11.

The original tunnel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959 for a cost of $25 million to replace the old ferry service. Officials say the existing tunnel has only 10 to 15 years of useful life remaining before major components will need to be completely replaced.

And estimated 80,000 vehicles now use the tunnel every day, leaving it congested for hours. With increased development south of the Fraser River, traffic through the tunnel is only expected to get worse.