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Vancouver moves forward on a $ 3.8 billion subway extension to UBC



VANCOUVER-City council endorsed a $ 3.8-billion plan to extend the subway line all the way to UBC along the Broadway corridor, but promised to not repeat the mistakes of the past when it comes to rampant land speculation and impact on businesses.

Funding is secured and planning is underway to build a Skytrain extension along the corridor from Commercial Drive to Arbutus St., which should be by 2025. But the University of British Columbia, some business groups and Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart want to extend it all way to UBC. Stewart said the line to UBC could open by 2030 with council's endorsement.

Passengers cram aboard Broadway B-Line bus in September 2018. Vancouver city council approved an extension to a planned skytrain route along the Broadway corridor all the way to UBC.
Passengers cram aboard Broadway B-Line bus in September 2018. Vancouver city council approved an extension to a planned skytrain route along the Broadway corridor all the way to UBC. (David P. Ball / StarMetro Vancouver)

"It is so important to have you with me when we're negotiating with senior levels of government," Stewart told the counsellers as the vote was about to pass.

During the construction of the Canada Line, small businesses struggled and the Metro Vancouver Regional District highlighted a growing disconnect between high-density development of condos near transit stations, which tend to be far out of the price range of lower-income people who actually use transit.

But some councillors believed this project would be different.

"I am satisfied that … we will be ensuring that we do transit-oriented development right and that we do fair-transit-oriented development," Coun. Pete Fry said before voting for the motion.

COPE Coun. Jean Swanson and NPA Coun. Colleen Hardwick opposed the extension to UBC. Swanson was concerned that it could displace thousands of renters who live in apartment buildings between Arbutus and UBC. "Those are all vulnerable if the Skytrain goes through," Swanson said.

Hardwick wants to see a transit plan for the entire city, not just one corridor. "We should not put all our eggs in the Broadway basket."

A study commissioned by the City of Vancouver, UBC and TransLink estimates it will cost between $ 3.3 to $ 3.8 billion to extend the line to UBC, compared to estimates of $ 1.7 to $ 3.2 billion for light-rail options.

Vancouver's transportation planners and the head of engineering said that Skytrain is the best option for the crowded Broadway corridor, where express B-line buses are crammed full every morning and evening as students and workers make their way to and from the university. The university, which has been rapidly building new condo buildings on campus land, is promising to contribute funding towards the project, although it has not said how much.

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Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the decision would place the project in a position to get federal funding. The city's former chief planner, Brent Toderian, also urged the council to move quickly to take advantage of provincial and federal governments that have prioritized transit funding.

But one former COPE councillor and several Westside residents warned city council against rushing to endorse Skytrain, raising fears that the underground line would be too expensive, would hurt local businesses, lead to expensive condo towers in lower-density neighborhoods, and would emit too much greenhouse gas during construction. They also said the council should not support Skytrain before the citywide plan, which is expected to take two years, has started.

"It's shocking that you are being asked to make a decision so quickly," said Anne Roberts, a former COPE councillor who was speaking as a private citizen, not in the name of the party. "Of course we want to improve transit to UBC … But it's up to you as a city council to give yourself the time you need to do the due diligence."

Roberts and several of the speakers preferred an at-grade light rail transit system.

Toderian is a fan of at-grade light rail like Calgary's CTrain system. But he said studies show a street-level rail system would quickly reach capacity, even if the city considered a second LRT line along 41st Ave. to UBC to relieve pressure on the Broadway corridor.

"The best tool for the job is my favorite transit option," Toderian said. "The numbers are irrefutable – Skytrain is the right solution."

While Roberts asked the council to take their time, the city's manager of engineering, Jerry Dobrovolny, said the Metro Vancouver region has been moving too slowly on new rapid transit projects. Approving one rapid transit project at a decade is not keeping up with regional growth, Dobrovolny said.

Jen St. Denis is a Vancouver-based reporter covering affordability and city hall. Follow her on Twitter: @jenstden


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