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Premier Christy Clark talks with construction workers in West Kelowna, B.C., on July 11, 2013. B.C. Premier Christy Clark says her government will begin construction in 2017 on a bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel between Richmond and Delta, but she isn’t prepared to say how much the project will cost.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says her government will begin construction in 2017 on a bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel between Richmond and Delta, but she isn't prepared to say how much the project will cost.

After the announcement of the project during a keynote speech to the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities on Friday, Ms. Clark told reporters that details, such as cost, are in the works.

"I am expecting that the contractors are going to sharpen their pencils and give us the best price possible," Ms. Clark told a news conference. "We have a feel for how much it might cost and we're confident we can finance it, but we're still working on some of those details."

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The four-lane George Massey Tunnel, about 20 kilometres south of downtown Vancouver, runs under the Fraser River estuary. between the City of Richmond and community of Delta. After two years of construction, it was opened in 1959 by the Queen and has become a key transportation link. However, calls for a new link have grown louder with complaints about congestion.

Consultations about the tunnel have been held over the past year leading to Friday's announcement, which was roundly applauded by UBCM delegates when Ms. Clark told them her government would break "the worst bottleneck in the Lower Mainland."

The Premier said the new bridge would improve travel times, expedite the movement of goods to market, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and create new opportunities for transit. Ms. Clark also conceded it was too early to talk about possible tolls on the project. The plan includes a provision for improvements to the Highway 99 corridor. The fate of the tunnel, which would likely be rendered idle, hasn't been determined.

Work on the project would come in the same year as the next provincial election when the Liberals will be seeking a fifth straight term.

The opposition New Democrats said it was bizarre that the government was announcing such a project with so many questions unanswered.

NDP MLA George Heyman said Ms. Clark was making an apparent "off-the-cuff" announcement void of key details.

"To announce a bridge with no details doesn't seem like responsible governance," he said in an interview. "She is announcing a bridge without details, costs or useful information."

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Mr. Heyman said the opposition would have relished debate on the proposal, but the Liberals have cancelled a fall sitting of the legislature so that forum doesn't exist.

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