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Vehicles enter and exit the Richmond end of the Massey Tunnel that connects Richmond and Delta, B.C., on Sept. 11, 2017.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

London Drugs says it may move its Richmond head office and distribution centre, which employs almost 900 people, after the NDP government announced further delays for a plan to replace the George Massey Tunnel. The iconic retailer, founded in British Columbia, could even leave for Alberta or Saskatchewan, its president says.

“We will look at every option … we do have a strong presence in Alberta and Saskatchewan. We will be looking at those markets as well, so we won’t rule them out. But it’s not the first place we’re looking at,” London Drugs president and chief operating officer Clint Mahlman said.

The tunnel, located south of Vancouver between Richmond and Delta over the Fraser River, has long been considered a bottleneck and major site for traffic congestion.

Earlier this week, B.C.'s Transportation Minister said more study and consultation are needed before the NDP can decide on a plan to replace the aging tunnel, and that it will take at least two more years.

Shortly after forming government last year, the NDP cancelled the Liberal government’s plan to build a 10-lane bridge, saying the project had little local support and exceeded what was needed. According to a 2017 project report on the replacement bridge, construction would have been under way this year and completed by the end of 2021. More than $100-million had already been spent on the engineering.

News that it would be another two years before the government comes up with an alternate plan, and more years after that before construction of an alternative is finished, has angered business groups.

Mr. Mahlman said the London Drugs head office and distribution centre employs 888 people, approximately 350 of whom commute through the south side of the tunnel every day.

Many have quit over the years due to the congested daily commute through Massey Tunnel, Mr. Mahlman said. At least two more, he added, have quit since Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said that there will be further delays before a plan is in place. She suggested the preferred option is probably a six- or eight-lane bridge or another tunnel.

“Our overwhelming preference is to stay where we are. However, prudent business practices require us, given the uncertainty now put in front of us, to figure out the alternatives,” Mr. Mahlman said.

“I can tell you our employees are frustrated at the lack of certainty, and we cannot provide them certainty as an employer. And that’s hurting our business.”

Mr. Mahlman said moving the London Drugs head office and distribution centre, which has been based in Richmond since the 1970s, would be incredibly costly and disruptive, taking multiple years. But he said the company’s concern over the Massey Tunnel congestion is not new.

“We don’t take these issues lightly. This is not something we’ve concluded overnight. Governments, whether they be Liberal or NDP, have been aware of the concerns for a very long time," he said. “Our concern is that despite [us] providing a number of years of comment and consultation and explaining the impact, this issue is once again delayed.”

Massey Tunnel opened in 1959 and quickly became the main commuter route to Vancouver for residents south of the Fraser River. A traffic data report published in 2015 stated that these trips accounted for 40 per cent of traffic through the tunnel. Nearly 60 per cent of daily trips through the tunnel are between Richmond and communities south of the Fraser.

The report found that tunnel congestion accounted for more than a million hours of vehicle delay annually.

The Ministry of Transportation could not say how long it will take before the tunnel replacement is completed. It said it will depend on the option chosen.

“We will begin immediately by engaging stakeholders, followed by the technical review of options, funding approvals and, in consultation with the region, identifying the preferred solution," the ministry said in a statement.

Barbara Tinson, chair of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, says that members of the chamber were prepared earlier this week for the NDP to pick an alternative option to the 10-lane bridge. She says they would have been okay with any plan, as long as a solution was in progress.

“More study [and] more delay is not an answer,” Ms. Tinson said.

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