Behind the scenes for over the past half year, Port Coquitlam mayor Brad West has been strongly advocating for an extension of SkyTrain’s Millennium Line into his community.
Comparatively, against the complexities of the multi-billion dollar extensions of SkyTrain to UBC, Langley, and possibly the North Shore, an extension from Coquitlam Central Station to enable SkyTrain’s reach to a new municipality would be the easiest and least expensive project to achieve, with a new surface track length of only about two kilometres and, possibly, two additional stations based on SkyTrain’s average station spacing and Port Coquitlam’s built form.
In fact, as a part of the 2016-completed Millennium Line Evergreen Extension, the first few metres of track and the required track switches for a possible future extension have already been built at Coquitlam Central Station, allowing for an eastward split-spur extension to be built without any disruption to train service.
In an interview with Daily Hive, West says he is very supportive of such an extension — to the extent that this has been a “major focus and priority” for him, especially within TransLink’s Mayors’ Council and in his discussions with the federal and provincial governments.
“Since I’ve been elected mayor, I’ve been pushing very hard to make the case that the Evergreen Extension should be further extended to Port Coquitlam,” he said.
“I have to say I’m disappointed and can’t understand why it wasn’t built to Port Coquitlam in the first place back when the Evergreen Extension was being built.”
His idea is to have the short extension reach downtown Port Coquitlam, with the SkyTrain guideway paralleling the Canadian Pacific Railway right-of-way east of Coquitlam Central Station.
Port Coquitlam, particularly its designated downtown area, has seen significant growth from densification over the past 15 years, ever since city council pre-zoned all of the city centre for higher density commercial and residential buildings, says West.
Statistics also indicate Port Coquitlam, a city with a land base of 30 sq. km and nearly 60,000 residents, has the highest overall densities of the Tri-Cities.
Some major transit improvements are set to arrive soon; a new Lougheed Highway B-Line service — one of three new B-Lines set to launch in the region in January 2020 — will run between Coquitlam Central Station and Maple Ridge, serving Port Coquitlam and Pitt Meadows in between. All of these communities are also served by the West Coast Express, but this service is, of course, extremely limited.
West says the new B-Line is “long overdue,” given that existing bus service in the city has been “quite poor.” He cites the example of local high school senior students, who told him it can take up to an hour to reach a SkyTrain station on the bus.
While B-Line routes have historically been a precursor to the eventual implementation of SkyTrain service in the region, West says this is not enough.
“I will make this point at every level: governments are telling people you need to get out of your vehicle and switch to different forms of transportation, and the response I get from people in Port Coquitlam is, ‘that sounds good, but what are the options?'”
“If you want to get people out of their vehicles, you need to give people options that are reliable, direct, and that are efficient, and unfortunately in our community we have been lacking that and as a result, many people are very reliant on their vehicle.”
An extension of SkyTrain to Port Coquitlam would be a seamless, continuous extension of the Millennium Line, with trains from the future western terminus at Arbutus Street (and UBC further in the future) alternating between the existing Evergreen Extension branch ending at Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station and the envisioned branch to Port Coquitlam.
This is similar to the Expo Line’s spurs into Surrey and New Westminster/East Burnaby and the Canada Line’s spurs into Richmond and Vancouver International Airport.
But there will be one key difference: the extension will have its own set of separate platforms located immediately south of the Evergreen Extension’s Coquitlam Central Station.
The junction for the spur and track switches towards Pitt Meadows are located before the station, just west of the existing platforms.
TransLink previously told Daily Hive the Port Coquitlam-bound spur branches off before the station for geometry reasons.
“The Evergreen Extension makes a pretty tight curve after leaving Coquitlam Central Station before heading north up Pinetree Way towards Lincoln and Lafarge Lake-Douglas stations. If the junction happened east of that station, the curve radius would be infeasibly sharp.”
As a result, should there ever be an extension to Port Coquitlam, two additional platforms will be built at Coquitlam Central Station, with one platform for trains towards Vancouver and another for trains towards Port Coquitlam.
The additional inbound platform will be back-to-back with the existing Lafarge-Lake Douglas Station platform, permitting a cross-platform connection, while the other platform to Port Coquitlam will be independent requiring descending and ascending escalators.
As for the possible cost, the extension ending in close proximity to downtown Port Coquitlam would most likely be in the lower end of hundreds of millions.
The 11-km-long Evergreen Extension, which is largely a surface route, cost $1.4 billion upon its completion three years ago. This comes to approximately $123 million per kilometre, which would peg a two-km-long branch to Port Coquitlam within the very rough ballpark of $250 million, if it had been included in the original extension.
A possible better cost indicator, accounting for recent inflation, would be the early projected $2.9-billion cost of the Expo Line’s 16-km-long Fraser Highway Extension — about $136 million per kilometre, excluding the highly generous 25% contingency included in the budget for unexpected costs. This would theoretically push the cost of a two-km-long extension to Port Coquitlam closer to $300 million, if it were built in the near future.
The proposed SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola route options from Production Way-University Station carry a similar cost.
TransLink is currently in the process of engaging the public on Transport 2050 — the creation of its new 30-year regional transportation strategy, which will outline the next public transit expansion projects beyond the currently planned SkyTrain extensions to UBC and Langley.
The inclusion of a SkyTrain extension to Port Coquitlam in this plan would help pave the way for eventual implementation.
TransLink is expected to finalize its Transport 2050 plan by the end of 2020.