If all goes according to plan, construction on the underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line under Broadway in Vancouver could begin by 2019.
During a major update on the project’s planning process and trajectory, senior officials from both TransLink and the City of Vancouver provided a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes planning work for the six-km-long, six-station extension from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street.
An update on the project cost and a finalized business case is anticipated for this fall, just after another public consultation phase is held in June on the design of the stations and public realm improvements as well as connections with other transit services and the management of traffic and business access. The last construction cost estimate pegged the project at $2 billion.
The procurement process of a construction contractor could start early next year, and a proponent could be selected by early-2019. There will be a final public consultation and final design phase throughout much of 2019 before digging starts that fall.
But all of this is dependant on resolving funding issues. The federal government has committed to cover 40% of the project and all three provincial parties have offered to match the level of funding. However, TransLink and the region’s municipalities still need to come up new revenue sources to the remaining 20% share of the cost.
The federal funding will not arrive until the provincial government makes the first move and provides its share.
“We are working on many different fronts at this point in the time. The stall could come if the funding decisions with the province and regionally slow down,” Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, told Vancouver City Council. “So that is what we want to do our best to keep everything on target. If everything happens sequentially and concurrently, we should be in good shape to start procurement early next year.”
If all goes according to plan, including the absence of any construction issues resulting in delays, the SkyTrain extension could be open by 2025.
The extension would see a daily ridership of 160,000 immediately upon opening, based on ridership forecasts.
Over 100,000 people already use the bus services on the Broadway corridor, which is the busiest bus route in Canada and the USA. Even with buses running every three minutes during rush hour, 500,000 people were passed by full buses in 2015.
The corridor is also the second largest employment area in Metro Vancouver, just behind downtown Vancouver.
In the meantime, another round of geotechnical soil testing is underway. Geotechnical crews with a truck-based drilling rig have been spotted along the Broadway corridor over the last few weeks retesting the soil conditions of the planned route and station conditions.
The City of Vancouver will be leasing space on the ground floor of the Crossroads building on the northwest corner of West Broadway and Cambie streets – the former space of lululemon lab. The space will be turned into a showcase area for the city’s transportation planning as well as a hub for learning about the Broadway extension project.
Learning from the disruptions of cut-and-cover on Cambie Street during the Canada Line construction process a decade ago, tunnel construction for the Broadway extension will be completed using a bored tunnel – similar to the Canada Line tunnel north of False Creek and the Evergreen extension.
However, stations will be built using the cut-and-cover method given the requirement for access from the ground.
Land use designations along the Broadway Corridor, from False Creek to West 16th Avenue, will likely change to allow greater density. This will be further defined by the municipal government’s City Core 2050 planning process beginning later this year.
Separately, TransLink will also be conducting its own public consultation next year on long-term transit projects beyond the Broadway extension and Surrey light rail. This potentially includes planning the second phase of the Broadway extension reaching UBC beginning from Arbutus Street and exploring streetcar lines in downtown Vancouver, False Creek, and along the Arbutus Corridor.
Desmond also noted that the first phase of the Surrey light rail project – the so-called ‘L Line’ 10-km route between Guildford Exchange, Surrey City Centre, and Newton Exchange – will open in 2024, assuming funding needs are met.
Responding to Councillor Geoff Meggs’ capacity concerns for the Canada Line due to the system’s short platforms, Desmond said the arrival of 11 additional two-car trains (22 cars) will alleviate issues over the short-term.
The Canada Line’s capacity will increase by 45% with the introduction of new trains in 2019, and it could potentially delay the need to upgrade the stations by 15 to 20 years.
“We are working closely with the Canada Line private operator. It is a little bit of a complicated negotiation given that it is a P3 and a concession operates it,” said Desmond.
“We are still in discussions about exactly how we want to accomplish the capacity improvement, but we are confident that the system is designed that we can increase the frequency sufficient to accommodate 22 additional cars. The system is designed for that frequency of service without having to rehabilitate the station platforms.”
Two additional trains were put into service during the peak hours in January, meaning up to 18 of the existing fleet of 20 trains are running during the busiest times of the day.
TransLink contended it underestimated how big Canada Line ridership into downtown Vancouver would be. In the last quarter alone, ridership was up 7% on average over the same period a year earlier.
Ridership on the Canada Line will likely soar when the Broadway extension is complete as passengers will be able to seamlessly transfer between the Canada Line and Millennium Line through underground passageways connecting the platforms at Broadway-City Hall Station.
The additional Canada Line trains are also meant to accommodate the surge in traffic upon the opening of the Broadway extension.