Opinion: Tunnel boring kicks off an exciting era for public transit in Metro Vancouver

Apr 13 2022, 7:23 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Bowinn Ma, the BC Minister of State for Infrastructure, and the MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale. She is a strong advocate for public transit, active transportation, and housing.


Don’t be fooled by the name, tunnel boring machines are more exciting than you might think.

The arrival of two high-tech tunnelling devices later this spring heralds a major milestone both for the Broadway Subway Project and our government’s vision for public transit throughout the Lower Mainland.

Over the next year, these mammoth machines will bore – inch by inch – two 5.7-km-long subway-sized tunnels through the bedrock from Great Northern Way-Emily Carr to Arbutus.

The Broadway Subway Project is just the first of numerous major public transit projects that will transform the way people travel around the Lower Mainland.

South of the Fraser, early works are also underway for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain to better connect our fast-growing Metro Vancouver communities. Expect to see action along the corridor as we prepare for this 16- kilometre extension of the Expo Line from King George Station to Langley City Centre.

As we look toward the future, however, it’s obvious that our work to expand the public transit network is not at its end. TransLink’s 30-year regional transportation strategy Transport 2050 includes an impressive range of proposed transit network connections spanning the entire region.

translink transport 2050 rapid transit expansion

Transport 2050 plan for additional grade-separated rapid transit (SkyTrain) and bus rapid transit (BRT). (TransLink)

Our government’s commitment to work collaboratively with local governments, TransLink, and the Mayors’ Council means British Columbians will realize the benefits of new transit options much sooner than they might otherwise.

That’s a good thing for communities that have been patiently waiting for their turn to join the rapid transit network.

Infamous for its snarled traffic and growing congestion challenges, the North Shore’s collective commitment toward a fixed-link rapid transit solution across the Burrard Inlet is a relatively new development that has benefited from the strength of a collaborative approach. We worked with local governments, First Nations, TransLink, and federal partners on the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project (INSTPP), which produced the first-ever collaboratively reached, cross-government, multi-agency transportation action plan for the North Shore. It generated a clear consensus across all levels of government to prioritize public transit solutions as a critical path forward for tackling the mobility and congestion challenges of the North Shore.

Leading off of these efforts, the Ministry went on to produce the Burrard Inlet Rapid Transit (BIRT) Technical Feasibility Study while the federal government funded the BIRT Benefits Assessment Report – both of which were then fed into the development of Transport 2050.

north shore connects burrard inlet rapid transit skytrain

Burrard Inlet Rapid Transit’s high-level concepts of North Shore SkyTrain line options via the Second Narrows: Gold Line from Park Royal to downtown Vancouver via Hastings, or Purple Line from Park Royal to Brentwood Town Centre Station and Metrotown Station via Willingdon Avenue. (North Shore Connects)

Today, North Shore Connects is a continuing unified effort by the City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, District of West Vancouver, Squamish Nation, and Tsleil-Waututh Nation to bring a North Shore rapid transit project to fruition.

Working with communities to achieve their goals is an approach that our government takes to heart. British Columbians can and should expect to see this collaborative spirit carry on as we continue to work with local governments to explore other future transit expansions.

This includes projects in progress like the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain, the possibility of further extending the Expo Line out to UBC, and opportunities to even better connect communities in the Fraser Valley by rail.

With the climate emergency upon us, the prospect of being able to reduce the cost of living for people and families while driving down our carbon footprint is an attractive reason to continue investing in transit, with haste. There’s a lot of work ahead of us still, but tunnel construction on the Broadway Subway Project is an unmistakable sign that we are moving toward the future. That’s something we can all be excited about.

Let the boring begin.

great northern way-emily carr station broadway subway tunnel boring

Artistic rendering of the Broadway Subway’s tunnel boring staging area at the intersection of Great Northern Way and Thornton Street, where Great Northern Way-Emily Carr Station will be located. (Government of BC)

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