Rapid transit under Burrard Inlet rejected two years ago as impractical

The provincial government’s announcement this week of a $500,000 feasibility study into a fixed-link rapid transit connection across Burrard Inlet to the North Shore has rekindled interest in a popular idea that one former mayor says had been briskly discarded not long ago as being too difficult and too costly.

In 2017, Darrell Mussatto, the former mayor of the City of North Vancouver, told Postmedia he had spoken to TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond about doing a “high-level feasibility” study on replacing the SeaBus with a fixed-link crossing between Waterfront Station and Lonsdale Quay.

On Wednesday, Mussatto said that while the idea had some support at the time, nothing much came of it. As he recalled, it was set aside after a “quick and dirty look” due to cost considerations and perceived engineering difficulties due to the depth of the inlet in that area. He could not recall any report having come out on the issue.

TransLink was unable to meet a request for comment Wednesday.

Mussatto said he was “very happy” to hear that the province planned to study the idea more closely.

“When you’re the mayor of a small city and you’ve got Vancouver and Surrey there, their priorities tend to trump ours. So that’s why I’m really happy to see that they’re now moving ahead with looking at whether it’s feasible or not,” he said.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will put up $250,000 toward the study, with the District of North Vancouver and the cities of North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Vancouver contributing the remainder. The study is slated to conclude early next year.

To date, “no comprehensive feasibility study has been completed to fully assess what viable options there may be for a potential rapid-transit crossing across the Burrard Inlet to the North Shore,” according to the ministry, although there was preliminary geotechnical work completed in the 1960s that looked at a Brockton Point connection.

The study will examine the technical feasibility of various alignment and connection options, according to the ministry.

West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy, the transportation critic for the B.C. Liberal party, said he believed there was a great business case for rapid transit to the North Shore.

“We feel that in any assessment, all options, all possibilities, need to be explored to some degree,” he said.

A working group for the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project released a report last summer that considered, as part of a broader analysis, the idea of rapid transit between the North Shore and Burrard Peninsula, in the vicinity of either the Second Narrows or the SeaBus route. The analysis found “ridership would be low” on such an eastern link “because of the dispersed development it would serve.” But it found a western link connecting Lonsdale City Centre with the SkyTrain in Downtown Vancouver would attract strong ridership.

“Some of the new transit ridership would come from a shift from automobile use, but most of the increase would be from new trip patterns. For example, a North Shore resident who shopped locally might shift their activity to downtown because of improved transit accessibility and vice versa,” the report found.

The group found a rapid transit connection would have “little impact” on bridge congestion, but that it may lead to increased transit use by existing commuters.

Further study on the idea would be made as TransLink fleshes out a new regional transportation strategy it has dubbed Transport 2050, according to the report. That strategy is slated to be a roadmap for transit projects over the next three-plus decades.

Erik Eberhardt, a geological engineer and professor at the University of B.C., said there are many examples in places like Norway of tunnels akin to one that would cross the Burrard Inlet.

“It always comes down to cost-benefit ratio and technical challenges,” he said of the project’s feasibility.

On the question of costs, Eberhardt threw out the figure of up to $2 billion, given the increased risks of tunnelling under water, among other considerations.

Looking at the geometry from Downtown Vancouver to the North Shore, “you’ve got a steep decline to stay in good rock and you’ve got a sharp incline,” but something like a SkyTrain may be able to handle that profile, he said. The Canada Line under False Creek was a relatively small-scale project, but effectively used the same technology and skill sets as would be needed for a Burrard Inlet crossing, he said.


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