Rail transit reaching the University of British Columbia will be planned as a continuous extension of SkyTrain infrastructure.
Earlier this morning, the Mayors’ Council voted to approve SkyTrain technology, triggering a $3-million early planning process over the coming year that will lead to the start of a business case process in 2020 that will cost a further $30 million to $40 million.
Unlike last fall’s decision over the Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension to Langley, today’s vote was not conducted with a weighted vote, which is based on the population of each municipality and is normally used to decide on long-term strategies and major investment plans.
During the discussions at the public meeting, several mayors expressed their ambivalence on the project over other regional transportation priorities.
Burnaby mayor Mike Hurley also wanted TransLink staff to explore cost-reducing elevated options instead of more tunnel, stating his believe that tunnelling the route is excessive and inferring it would be unfair for other communities that have received elevated tracks for their SkyTrain.
“I support transit going out to UBC, but I will have a very hard time supporting a subway link going that route because that is what the rest of the region has had, and frankly the cost of the subway route would have to be borne by the City of Vancouver if that is what they want,” said Hurley.
To that point, Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart highlighted how the Canada Line could have been built as an elevated guideway on Cambie Street. More than 15 years ago, elevated options were presented for the route on Cambie Street, given the wide median space on the street, but it was ultimately rejected due to opposition from the municipal government and residents.
“A lot of us feel the resentment over the Canada Line on Cambie Street and the ‘creme de la creme’… the fact that we were lied to on the Canada Line that it had to be underground on Cambie Street, when in fact it is not true,” said Stewart.
“When we are opting to go underground as a community, we fund it ourselves. That was the choice Coquitlam faced with the last kilometre of the Evergreen Extension because we weren’t willing to pay $100 million per kilometre to go underground, and Vancouver is facing the same questions I suspect other than technical reasons.”
The coming early planning process will identify possible station locations, refined route and alignment options, and the segments that will be tunnelled and elevated, particularly on the University Boulevard median west of Blanca Street.
A SkyTrain extension from Arbutus Street to UBC is currently unfunded, but regional leaders are aiming to take advantage of the upcoming federal election campaign when spending promises are made. The seven-km-long project is expected to cost between $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion in 2018 dollars and could be completed by 2030 — five years after the extension reaches Arbutus Street.
Based on the independent technical findings, an extension of the Millennium Line to UBC from its future Arbutus Street terminus brings the highest ridership potential — 311,500 daily boardings by 2045, with 192,700 between VCC-Clark Station and Arbutus Street and 118,8000 between Arbutus Street and UBC.
All other street-level LRT alternative options bring far less ridership, and would reach ultimate capacity after just 15 years, in 2045, whereas SkyTrain’s capacity is at least four times street-level LRT.
SkyTrain is the only long-term capacity solution.
Vancouver city council approved its official support for SkyTrain technology in a vote in January, and a recent survey found that 82% of residents across the region support the project as SkyTrain.
Ahead of the vote, Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart warned other mayors that the segment between Arbutus Street and UBC would likely have to rely on the 99 B-Line for decades if they voted against TransLink staff recommendations on planning for SkyTrain.
Surrey mayor Doug McCallum voted in support of the extension and technology choice, and said in his recent encounters with his constituents he was surprised by the number of people who live in Surrey and commute out to UBC.
“The number of employees that work at UBC and live out in Fleetwood and Clayton areas… we fully support SkyTrain going out to UBC because it will help one of the fastest growing areas of the region in terms of saving time and getting people out of their cars and reducing the number of transfers,” said McCallum.
Concurrently, TransLink is also conducting detailed planning for the 16-km-long Fraser Highway extension of SkyTrain’s Expo Line from King George Station to Langley Centre. The Mayors’ Council approved SkyTrain technology last December and work is quickly being performed to develop a preliminary and business case that will allow for the contractor bidding process to begin as early as mid-2020.
Afterwards, procurement will take another 15 months, and construction will take at least four years, potentially allowing for a significant portion of the Fraser Highway extension to be open by 2025.