Local leaders discuss potential federal funding for UBC SkyTrain extension

Feb 12 2021, 9:04 am

Representatives with the City of Vancouver, local First Nations, and the University of British Columbia renewed their discussions with the federal government on the funding needed to extend the SkyTrain Millennium Line further west of the future Arbutus Station.

In a release from the Mayors’ Office, the discussions occurred yesterday between federal Minister of Infrastructure Canada Catherine McKenna and Mayor Kennedy Stewart, leaders with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, and UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono.

This builds on the memorandum between all five parties signed in early 2020 to advocate for the extension of SkyTrain all the way to the UBC campus.

The three First Nations are also involved as their jointly held development corporation is behind the 90-acre future development of the Jericho Lands, which is located along the transit route and expected to be a high-density project with a mix of housing. The First Nations previously indicated an interest in having a station located on the development site.

These discussions followed the federal government’s announcement on Wednesday that it will provide a new $5.9-billion fund for public transit infrastructure projects across the country between 2021 and 2026.

More importantly for longer-term projects such as UBC SkyTrain, starting in 2026, there will be an annual permanent federal transit fund of $3 billion. Based on ridership share, TransLink could receive an estimated $350 million annually in predictable transit infrastructure funding from the federal government.

“As partners and neighbours, the City, the three nations and UBC have a shared interest in working together to build vibrant and resilient communities that ensure Metro Vancouver continues to be a great place to live, learn, work and play,” reads a statement.

“The partners are united in the pursuit of extending SkyTrain to UBC for its potential to achieve their shared aspirations of improved transit in the region, more affordable housing, better post-secondary accessibility, immediate job creation and increased economic growth and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

An extension of the Millennium Line between Arbutus Station and the UBC campus is roughly seven km in length. It is expected to be largely tunnelled and could have up to six stations. The preliminary estimated cost of the project is roughly $3 billion.

Both Vancouver City Council and TransLink’s Mayors’ Council approved the technology choice of a seamless extension of SkyTrain for the remaining journey to UBC.

However, no funding for the project has been secured. To date, only preliminary analysis has been performed for the extension using $3 million in early-stage technical funding approved by the Mayors’ Council. The next stage of detailed planning work and a business case was slated to start in 2020 at a cost of between $30 million and $40 million, but this was delayed due to COVID-19.

TransLink could also use its share of the new federal funding programs to support the costs of projects such as the full Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension, new battery-electric bus fleet, and the SFU Burnaby Mountain Gondola.

For the current project of the Millennium Line Broadway Extension reaching Arbutus Street, site preparation is underway, and major construction activities are expected to begin this summer. The $2.8-billion, six-km-long, six-station subway is scheduled to open in 2025.

Until the UBC extension is ready, the remaining leg to campus will be linked by a truncated 99 B-Line service starting from the new bus loop at Arbutus Station. The 99 B-Line will likely be rebranded as a RapidBus route.

Diagram of Arbutus Station. (Government of BC)

SkyTrain Broadway Subway Broadway Extension Arbutus Station

November 2020 conceptual design of Arbutus Station. (Government of BC)

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