The student society representing Simon Fraser University students says it has received an overwhelming indication of support for the direct, straight-line route for TransLink’s proposed gondola public transit line to the Burnaby Mountain campus.
Based on consultation performed earlier this year that attracted over 700 students and campus community members, Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) found that 84% of students favoured the straight-line, 2.7-km-long route from SkyTrain’s Production Way-University Station to the top of the mountain.
The public transit authority estimates the travel time for Route 1 to be six minutes, with 30-passenger capacity cabins departing as frequently as every 30 seconds. Students also noted that this route meant less trees would be cut down on the mountainside.
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Just 13% supported Route 2, which also starts at Production Way-University Station, but makes an eastward detour to avoid Route 1’s impact over the homes of the Forest Grove neighbourhood. It is a longer route with an estimated travel time of 10 minutes, including a 90-degree turn that requires an additional mid-station building. This route would also require more trees to be cleared within the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area.
But Route 2 is the furthest route away from the tank farm, providing more of a buffer for this escape route if the tanks were to explode, cause a forest fire on the mountain, and block the two access roads out of the campus.
Support for Route 3 was almost non-existent, given that it is considerably longer than Route 2, resulting in added travel times. It would also start at Lake City Way Station, which means passengers arriving from the Expo Line would have to transfer to a Millennium Line train at Production Way-University Station to reach the gondola terminal. Another issue is this route’s close proximity to the tank farm.
“With comments like ‘Route 1 is the best route’ and ‘Route 1 is the most efficient,’ SFU students would be very pleased to see a straight-line route from Production Way-University station to SFU,” reads the consultation summary.
“Nonetheless, environmental issues, disruption to nearby residences and tank farm safety should be taken into consideration when evaluating all three options, among other important factors.”
A high-capacity, high-speed gondola system, similar to Whistler Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola, would replace the existing No. 145, providing more reliable service and a far higher capacity of 3,000 passengers per hour per direction.
The existing buses are slower, prone to frequent mechanical breakdowns, and are unable to meet demand during peak hours, with wait times of up to 20 minutes experienced due to pass-ups. The gondola would also address the wintertime campus closures due to snowfall, as the buses often cannot make the trip up the mountain.
In 2020 dollars, according to TransLink, Route 1 of the gondola is expected to cost $197 million, while the longer Route 2 is estimated at $255 million. A far higher price tag is likely for Route 3.
This project is currently unfunded, but prior to COVID-19, TransLink was pursuing funding from the federal government’s green infrastructure fund.
Last week, the public transit authority said its sudden fiscal crisis due to the pandemic could require it to re-evaluate its capital projects.
But the blow on long-planned projects may be softened, as the federal government has indicated it plans to introduce significant infrastructure spending, likely in the fall, for shovel-ready projects as an immediate economic recovery stimulus.
Planned projects like the gondola and full SkyTrain extension to Langley Centre could benefit from the new influx in federal funding.
If the gondola proceeds, construction will take just 18 months to complete.