Detailed technical design and planning set to begin for UBC SkyTrain extension project

Mar 20 2023, 11:02 pm

Extensive work on designing and planning the extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line to reach the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus will kick off early this summer.

Last week, Transportation Investment Corporation — the provincial crown corporation overseeing the management of major provincial transportation infrastructure projects — launched its procurement process for seeking a private contractor to complete highly detailed technical work that will be used to form the business case supporting the project.

This private contractor is expected to be selected by June 2023, and they will complete their work by December 2024, at which point the provincial government will use the provided information to create its own “Provincial Business Case” for extending the Millennium Line from its 2026 terminus of Arbutus Station to UBC.

The selected contractor will be responsible for all extensive geotechnical assessments along the seven-km-long route extension to determine the anticipated ground conditions for construction, which is anticipated to be at least largely underground based on TransLink’s previous preliminary planning.

Testing ground conditions is necessary to determine what kind of drill head is needed for the tunnel boring machine, for example, to reduce risks, unexpected costs, and construction delays. The extension’s route crosses through a number of buried streams.

It is expected geotechnical testing work conducted by the contractor will involve creating borehole drilling at 100-metre intervals along the entire route. Similar geotechnical testing was also conducted between 2017 and 2019, leading up to the start of construction on the Millennium Line Broadway Extension to Arbutus and the Millennium Line Evergreen Extension.

Geotechnical testing for the Broadway Subway at the intersection of Granville Street and West Broadway

Geotechnical testing for the Broadway Subway at the intersection of Granville Street and West Broadway in 2017. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The contractor will perform a detailed technical analysis on TransLink’s previous planning work of identifying its preferred route along West Broadway, passing through the Jericho Lands redevelopment, before travelling along a short portion of West 8th Avenue before reaching University Boulevard west of Blanca Street. In early 2022, TransLink staff, the Mayors’ Council, and Vancouver City Council endorsed the four station locations of Macdonald Street, Alma Street, Jericho Lands, and the UBC trolley bus loop.

The alternative route of transitioning from West Broadway to West 10th Avenue, west of Alma Street, with a station at Sasamat Street instead of at the Jericho Lands, will also be explored in detail.

It is noted that the contractor will establish the baseline design for architectural, structural, geotechnical/seismic considerations, municipal roadworks, utilities, and SkyTrain systems and determine station locations, areas for elevated or underground guideways, tunnel entrance locations, cut-and-cover and tunnel boring construction segments, property impacts, construction staging areas, and traffic management.

The provincial government is also tasking the contractor to consider transit-oriented development and affordable housing as important aspects of their work on establishing the location and design of the stations. This specifically includes the possibility of integrating the stations at Macdonald Street and Alma Street into new developments, in addition to a review of other transit-oriented development possibilities on the Jericho Lands and at UBC.

translink ubc skytrain route options april 2022

TransLink’s route and station location options for UBC SkyTrain, April 2022. (TransLink)

translink ubc skytrain route april 2022

UBC SkyTrain route options for a second station reaching south campus, near Wesbrook Village. (TransLink)

The provincial government notes this main technical services contractor will work closely with other contractors that will be retained to conduct work on other aspects such as urban planning and architectural development, cost estimates, bus integration planning, satellite train storage facilities, and consultation. Multiple contractors will be hired to develop and finalize the business case.

In September 2022, the provincial government took over jurisdiction of the UBC SkyTrain extension project from TransLink and is now leading concept planning and the creation of the business case.

But it remains to be seen whether the provincial government will also lead the future process of selecting construction contractors and overseeing the construction process. However, this is likely, given that the provincial government also took on this role for the Evergreen Extension, the current Broadway Extension to Arbutus, and the future Expo Line Surrey-Langley Extension, as well as the new replacement Pattullo Bridge. All of these projects were previously under TransLink’s jurisdiction.

The provincial government previously estimated such highly detailed technical design and planning work and the creation of the business case will cost about $30 million. The federal government previously committed to cover 40% of such costs, with the provincial government and TransLink covering the remainder.

Under its 10-year priorities approved by the Mayors’ Council, TransLink anticipates the UBC SkyTrain extension will be completed sometime between 2030 and 2035.

In exchange for supporting the UBC SkyTrain, the Mayors’ Council made the stipulation that construction for this project will not begin until after implementation begins on the new regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network and after planning begins on the long-term North Shore rapid transit project.

arbutus station broadway subway

Arbutus Station on the SkyTrain Millennium Line Broadway Extension (Broadway Subway). It will open in 2026. (Government of BC)

arbutus station broadway subway

Arbutus Station on the SkyTrain Millennium Line Broadway Extension (Broadway Subway). It will open in 2026. (Government of BC)

arbutus station skytrain broadway extension

SkyTrain Arbutus Station design concept. It will open in 2026. (Government of BC)

In the meantime, the under-construction Millennium Line Broadway Extension reaching Arbutus will open in 2026, while construction will begin on the Expo Line’s Surrey-Langley Extension in 2024 for an opening in 2028.

Based on previous studies, the travel time from UBC to Arbutus Station could be about 10 minutes, and on a one-train ride, the travel times from UBC to reach Commercial Drive-Broadway Station and Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station could be about 20 minutes and roughly one hour, respectively.

TransLink forecasts that the Broadway Extension to Arbutus will see 170,000 boardings daily by 2045, while the UBC Extension will see 130,000 daily by 2050. In contrast, the entire 19-km-long Canada Line recorded an average of about 130,000 boardings daily in 2019.

A 2021 survey by TransLink shows 92% of Metro Vancouver residents support the UBC SkyTrain project.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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