City of Vancouver misses deadline to pursue federal funding for Prior-Venables road upgrade

Jun 9 2022, 12:35 am

A key opportunity to seek funding from the federal government to help cover the estimated $125-million cost of building the Prior/Venables road project has been missed by the City of Vancouver.

There was a $1 million gap in the required funding to commence work on detailed design in order to advance to the next stage of the application, according to City staff in a memo last month.

The first phase of design and planning work was expected to cost $4 million, with $2 million covered by the federal government. The Port of Vancouver agreed to cover $500,000, and the municipal government agreed to fund a further $500,000.

Other partners benefiting from the project, including CN Rail, were expected to contribute to fill the remaining $1 million, but they did not agree to allocate funding.

While the federal government accepted the City’s initial step of the expression of interest application, the deadline of January 31, 2022 for the final application submission for the Comprehensive Project Proposal program was missed.

As design and planning funding was not fulfilled, the ability to secure construction funding is now “more of a challenge.”

The Prior/Venables road project concept was approved by Vancouver City Council in 2019, following a five-year planning and public consultation exercise.

This was originally called the False Creek Flats Arterial Road project, with the specific aim of creating a new east-west arterial road route between the edge of downtown Vancouver, and businesses and communities to the east. The planning mandate was to build a new arterial road to divert regional vehicle traffic away from Prior Street and Venables Street, which was the promise the municipal government made to Strathcona residents when City staff began planning the arterial road project.

But instead, city council approved a lower cost option closer to status quo, compared to the other route options that were considered.

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Approved permanent improvements of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

Instead of approving city staff’s recommendation of a four-lane arterial road standard, the approved concept downgraded the Prior Street and Venables Street plan to a collector road with traffic calming measures on a pilot project basis.

The approved future permanent design features will include a road underpass beneath the Burrard Inlet Rail Line (BIRL) to eliminate CN Rail’s existing street-level crossing, which has been a source of major traffic congestion, especially with the increased frequency and length of trains from growing port cargo volumes.

This serves to “improve safety and comfort for all road users (including drivers, transit, trucks, pedestrians, and cyclists) by reducing conflicts between road and rail traffic,” and “improve travel time reliability for Prior/Venables Street for local truck access and transit vehicles.”

Furthermore, when fully built, the project would “enable a more resilient transportation network that supports economic development and jobs,” and”improve rail efficiency, reliability, and enable increased capacity to the port to reduce the environmental impacts of trade along the corridor and in the region.”

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

City staff state “ideally, this project would be completed in advance of the new St. Paul’s Hospital and Health Campus opening.” The new provincial-level hospital is currently well under construction and anticipated to open in 2027, and the road project would “improve emergency responder access” to the facility.

“The Prior/Venables Underpass Project aims to improve reliability of the transportation network, enhance liveability and support economic development for residents, businesses and commuters. The project also supports economic development and trade for the Region, Province and across Canada.”

Although the timeline for the project is now less certain, the municipal government states it will continue to look for opportunities for partnerships with the federal and provincial governments and other entities who benefit from a grade-separated railway on the Prior/Venables corridor.

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

The western end of the Prior/Venables corridor directly transitions onto the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts, which the city is aiming to demolish and replace with a reconfigured two-way Pacific Boulevard arterial road that leads to a new Georgia Street roadway ramp situated between BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena. However, the viaducts demolition, a key part of the Northeast False Creek Plan, is entirely dependent on developer-driven revenues to cover the costs. To date, these private developments have been progressing at a much slower pace than originally anticipated.

City staff stated in April 2022 the viaducts will be demolished no earlier than 2027. Furthermore, according to the draft 2023-2026 capital plan, the target now is to replace the viaducts by 2032. But if the viaducts are not replaced by 2032, additional investments will be needed to upgrade the 1972-built viaducts.

In 2019, CN Rail signed an agreement with the federal government and the port on a plan to double-track the four-km section of the BIRL within Vancouver between Powell Street near the port, along the eastern edge of the False Creek Flats, and then through the Grandview Cut to Nanaimo.

false creek flats

The problematic Prior/Venables Street at-grade railway crossing. (Google Maps)

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