The TransLink Mayors’ Council has endorsed SkyTrain as the technology for the transit extension to the University of British Columbia.
At a meeting Friday morning, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation voted in favour of moving ahead with planning for SkyTrain, with only two mayors opposed. The decision was in line with a recommendation made by TransLink staff in late January.
Ahead of the decision, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said that in the interest of acting “collaboratively” on a regional decision, he would not be calling for a weighted vote.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum told the council he’d heard from UBC students and employees in his city who were looking forward to getting to campus by rapid transit.
“We’re certainly fully supportive of it,” he said.
Several mayors said they supported transit to UBC, but had concerns about the cost of the line and its priority over other transportation projects.
“It is not the only important transit project in the region,” said City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan, adding “we need to look at the long-term needs of the region.”
White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker worried the council seemed to be “rushing headlong into something several years out,” without really knowing what future growth of the region would look like.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart had questions about SNC-Lavalin and its involvement in future SkyTrain projects.
A staff report included in the meeting’s agenda said staff believe “an extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line is the only technology option that can provide sufficient capacity to meet demand beyond 2045.”
The report also noted other potentially lower-cost alternatives, including light rail transit (LRT), had been “thoroughly explored and eliminated because of capacity limitations and deliverability challenges.”
Ridership for a new rapid transit line from Arbutus to UBC is projected to exceed 118,000 in 2045, which is more than the current Millennium Line corridor.
During the meeting, the mayor’s council also heard from several people who work at UBC and supported the line. Some spoke about their difficulties getting to and from campus on existing transit.
A representative of UBC’s Alma Mater Society said the line would promote “accessibility and equity of education and employment.”
Engineering student Kevin Wong told the council he commutes for two to three hours each day, some days leaving home at 6 a.m. and not returning until 11 p.m.
“SkyTrain to UBC would cut my commute in half,” he said.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has been a strong advocate of extending rapid transit to UBC.
In late January, Vancouver city council voted nine-to-two to endorse a SkyTrain extension from Arbutus Street to UBC, and to direct staff to “advance the design development including public consultation to determine station locations, vertical and horizontal alignment.”
Procurement has begun for the Millennium Line extension from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus through a bored tunnel under Broadway. It’s estimated that the project will cost $2.83 billion and be completed in 2025.
The second phase of the 10-year transportation plan for the region set aside $3 million to develop concept designs and undertake pre-business-case work for the line to UBC. The last evaluation of options for the line was done in 2012, so last year TransLink hired a consultant to do a study to consider technology, operating assumptions, demand forecasts and costs.
Four options had been considered: optimized B-Line bus service, light rail from Arbutus to UBC, light rail from Main Street-Science World to UBC and SkyTrain from Arbutus to UBC.
The updated study found that by 2030 the B-Line and parallel corridors would be overcrowded. By 2045, both light-rail routes would be near or over-capacity, and parallel corridors would be crowded. SkyTrain would also be nearing capacity, however, it could be doubled with higher frequency and longer trains.
A preliminary cost estimate, in 2018 dollars, for a fully tunnelled SkyTrain extension would be $3.3 billion-$3.8 billion. However, the report notes inflation would push the cost to $4.1 billion-$4.8 billion if procurement begins in 2025 and the project is completed in 2030.
With files by Jennifer Saltman