A Metro Vancouver committee of mayors and other municipal leaders is expected to call on the federal government to launch an environmental assessment of controversial provincial plans for a 10-lane toll bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel.
On Thursday, the Intergovernmental and Finance Committee of Metro Vancouver is to vote on a recommendation suggesting the board send a letter to the federal Environment Minister, urging her to order the assessment.
Members of the 10-person committee include the mayors of Port Coquitlam, Richmond, Port Moody, Burnaby, Coquitlam and North Vancouver.
Committee chair Raymond Louie, a Vancouver city councillor and vice-chair of Metro Vancouver, said he was confident the recommendation would pass.
"The federal minister should be taking the opportunity to review this," Mr. Louie said on Wednesday.
"They should have a look at it and determine whether or not there are adverse environmental effects, address any public concerns of those effects and determine how to best deal with them."
Mr. Louie said the province has not given Metro Vancouver enough time to consider and offer its feedback on the proposed $3.5-billion bridge, about 20 kilometres south of downtown Vancouver.
The bridge would replace a 57-year-old tunnel that runs under the Fraser River estuary between Richmond and the municipality of Delta. The province is proposing a 10-lane bridge that would open in 2022.
Mr. Louie noted the province released a project report in mid-December and sought Metro's response by Jan. 28 and simultaneously, through the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, imposed a Feb. 10 deadline for a response from Metro to their pursuit of an assessment certificate.
"This is far too short of a period of time for Metro Vancouver to provide a detailed response," he said.
"The province seems intent on moving ahead with this, and the timelines they have set out are unreasonable in terms of providing public consultation."
Mr. Louie says he has varied concerns about the project, including its impact on regional water infrastructure, regional growth and air quality, given the prospect of increased traffic due to the bridge.
Malcolm Brodie, mayor of Richmond and a member of the committee voting Thursday, said a federal review would bring helpful perspectives to the discussion about building the bridge and also help guide Ottawa on funding commitments for the project.
Richmond would prefer an expansion of the existing tunnel, but has not taken any formal position on the bridge. However, Mr. Brodie said, the city has many questions about the proposed bridge.
He said he expects the provincial assessment to be positive. "I am looking for a deeper assessment," he said referring to a possible federal review.
Mr. Brodie said he has not received any federal response to a call from Richmond for a federal review.
Responding to Metro Vancouver, the B.C. Transportation Ministry said in a statement that the bridge project does not automatically trigger a federal environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, "but the provincial process provides a similar level of scrutiny to that of a federal review."
The ministry also noted that staff have met 20 times since 2012 with their Metro Vancouver counterparts, and 70 times each with staff from Delta and Richmond – the communities on either side of the bridge.