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Doubts raised over light rail idea for Broadway

What to do about rapid transit along the city’s main east-west corridor has been a hot topic for more than…

By Chelsea Novak , in City , on March 3, 2014 Tags: , , , ,

Broadway Main Image
The future Broadway line and the Vancouver neighbourhoods it would travel through. Click to enlarge.

What to do about rapid transit along the city’s main east-west corridor has been a hot topic for more than a decade in Vancouver.

In February, a group of visiting experts weighed in on the best option for the Broadway corridor.

Their conclusion? A ground-level light rail transit system isn’t the right fit for the city’s busiest street.

The panel was visiting from the Urban Land Institute’s Washington, D.C . Chapter and recommended an underground subway as the best mode of transportation for the corridor, because of the impact ground-level light rail transit would have on neighbourhoods.

“These aren’t trolley cars, folks. They are sizable surface light rail cars and to move the kind of volumes you need to move, you’re gonna have a lot of them, going very often,” said Richard Reynolds, chair of the panel. “You either lose lanes, or you lose parking, or you lose sidewalk and streetscape.”

The panel was examining the options for the 13-kilometre rapid-transit line along Broadway. The much-debated line would run from Commercial Drive in east Vancouver to the University of B.C. on the western tip of Vancouver’s peninsula.

The panel’s assessment put a damper on one of the options that the region’s transportation agency had put forward last year.

TransLink’s 2013 report, which summarized its analyses of seven possible rapid-transit options for Broadway, suggested that an LRT line was a viable option. It pegged the cost at $1-billion, a third of the cost of a subway line.

The report said that construction of the LRT would introduce turning restrictions and reduce the number of lanes for traffic, but having the LRT travel under Broadway’s heavier traffic areas through a tunnel could diminish the impacts. Depending on the length, the tunneling could increase the cost by $750 million.

The subway line endorsed by the ULI would connect to the existing Millennium line at VCC-Clark Station and cost an estimated $3 billion.

Limited transit funding

As it is though, there may not be funding for any version of a Broadway line.

[pullquote align=”right”]The question is who gets the first x-billion dollars to do which project.[/pullquote]Surrey also wants a new transit line, one that would cost $2 billion, but there’s only so much funding to go around, and TransLink has the final say in which transit projects will get approved.

The ULI panel was well aware of the funding concerns.

“The question is who gets the first x-billion dollars to do which project. And we’re not taking sides on that one, because we obviously don’t have enough information or the local knowledge to do that, but it’s going to have to be cobbled together from a series of funding sources,” said Reynolds.

While the panel wasn’t able to provide much advice on where the funding should come from, they did offer a suggestion for deferring costs.

“It would make sense financially […] that construction be done in phases,” said Reynolds.

The TransLink report also looked at the option of constructing the subway in phases, but acknowledged that while doing so would spread out the cost of the system, it would “potentially add some incremental costs.”

Those costs still need to be calculated, as TransLink hasn’t yet analyzed options for phasing construction.