By Darah Hansen And Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun
Rapid transit 'a priority,' but it all comes down to funding: TransLink
The City of Vancouver laid out its case this week for a $2.8-billion rapid-transit line that would run underground along the Broadway corridor, arguing that despite the hefty price tag, a subway is more efficient and less disruptive than streetcar service.
"Light rail doesn't meet the people-moving needs of the corridor," said Jerry Dobro-volny, Vancouver's director of transportation.
The city's push for a subway line tunnelled along the corridor comes after years of talk on how best to relieve passenger congestion along the region's second-busiest travel corridor, after the downtown core, and one of the most heavily used bus routes in North America.
Serving the University of B.C. and the central Broadway business district spanning from Main to Burrard streets, the route sees about 160,000 daily transit trips.
Some 2,000 passengers at Commercial and Broadway are passed by during peak morning hours with over-crowded buses failing to meet demand.
About half the transit users come into the city from elsewhere in the region.
Meanwhile, commercial and residential development plans along the corridor are expected to increase the pressure.
"We can say with some certainty that the current intolerable situation is going to get much, much worse," said Dobrovolny.
The city's vision calls for a bored tunnel running underground from VCC-Clark, what is now the end of the Millennium Line, to UBC.
Dobrovolny said the upheaval to businesses and residents that marred construction of the Canada Line will be significantly minimized.
"We're talking about a bored tunnel through the corridor and a bored tunnel does not cause disruptions to the surface except at station locations," he said.
A surface-level light-rail line, by contrast, would have "tremendous impact" on the area, particularly west of Arbutus Street, where the corridor narrows.
Under that model, the city said the entire corridor would have to be dug up from building face to building face. Trees and sidewalks would have to be removed, over 90 per cent of parking lost and drivers restricted on where they can turn at just about every intersection.
"It's the cut-and-cover without the cover," Dobrovolny said.
Ultimately, city staff say, a subway service is better able to handle congestion as ridership grows.
Existing council policy supports a staged construction approach with the initial subway line running west to Arbutus Street.
The second phase would see the line continued to UBC, with new stations built as needed at a cost of about $50 million each.
Phase one of the project is estimated to cost around $1.5 billion - a figure the city is hoping will prove more palatable to a cash-strapped regional transit authority.
TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said while some kind of solution to Broadway corridor congestion is a top priority, there are other needs across the region, including rapid transit in Surrey.
Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, vice-chairman of the mayors' council, said while both the Broadway and Surrey rapid transit projects are next in the queue, it all comes down to funding.
Technical studies on both projects must be completed next year, he said, before a decision can be made on what to build.
Surrey is pushing for three light rail lines - along 104th Avenue between 152nd Street and City Centre; City Centre to Newton, with an extension to South Surrey; and along Fraser Highway, between City Centre and Langley.
"They're both ultimately affected by our ability to raise the necessary capital to build the infrastructure and then operate it," Fassbender said.
The transportation authority has had to postpone several projects after regional mayors rejected a plan to raise property taxes in 2013 and 2014, which would have generated about $30 million annually for transit services.
Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said it shouldn't be an either/or proposal when it comes to funding transit needs in Surrey and Vancouver.
"There are regional reasons why Surrey should get dramatic investment in rapid transit," Meggs said. "We feel the same argument, with different outcomes, applies to Vancouver."
UBC spokesman Pascal Spothelfer said he was encouraged to hear Vancouver's subway proposal includes a connection to the university, even in a staged approach.
But he's still not convinced that $2.8 billion is enough to bring the line all the way to the university, and called on TransLink, Metro Vancouver and the provincial and federal governments to come up with funding for the project.
Whether the line runs underground or along the street is unimportant to UBC, Spothelfer said.
Dobrovolny said the city has discussed possible partnerships with UBC that could help fund a subway line, similar to Vancouver International Airport's investment in the Canada Line.
But Spothelfer said the university can't be compared with the airport, which has large undeveloped industrial lands and can levy airport improvement fees to pay for transit improvements.
Even if a decision on the Broadway subway proposal is made this year, the earliest Vancouver predicts the line could open is 2021.