Vancouverism@30: The Great Urban Train Robbery

A truncated 5.4 KM subway and a 12 KM tram are proposed for Vancouver and Surrey. However, the costs have not been made public. Costs for recent Translink projects just keep going up and up. The culprit? Municipal pork.

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portland-streetcar-10th-ave-sw-yamhill

PEOPLE WALK SAFELY SEEMINGLY OBLIVIOUS TO THE APPROACHING PORTLAND STREETCAR

On 17 January 2017 Translink announced two new extensions to the Greater Vancouver transit network: a 6 km subway under Broadway, and a 12 km tram linking Newton-Surrey Center-and-Guilford. While there are many things to like about this proposal, unanswered questions threaten to derail the discussion. Not least of which is the incredible shrinking problem afflicting the length of the new transit lines and the fact that the announcement did not include cost estimates.

  • The Broadway extension was to reach UBC. However, the proposed subway stops 1/3 of the way stranding UBC passengers on the buses.
  • The combined amount of new service is a meagre 18 km shared between the two lines in two vastly separated locations in two different municipalities.
  • TRANSLINK held media events, press releases and consulted the public without divulging costs for the two projects.
  • Modern low-floor tram is being proposed for the first time in the Lower Mainland in Surrey.

The last point is welcome news for members the transportation community in our region who see advantages in modern tram over skytrain and subway. On-street, at-grade operation is now preferred to subway construction by many transportation experts. They report that a Broadway subway would carry no additional passenger capacity over a modern low-floor tram running on the surface. The trip times would be comparable since the long walk to and from the platform is eliminated by tram service. Trams stop at the curb. Modern signalling makes the lights ‘always green’ for approaching trams streamlining traffic flow. Finally, according to the Light Rail Transit Association, the costs for tram should be significantly lower. That is welcome news.

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translink-project-costs

TRANSLINK PROJECT COSTS IN 2016 DOLLARS

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Most worrying are the unreported costs. The table above lists construction cost per KM for all Translink projects. The figures for the Broadway Subway and the Surrey LRT are “best guesses” provided by local transit professionals. In column 3 we see how between 1985 and today costs just keep going up & up. Sources inform me that costs for the Surrey light rail have escalated to over 110 million per KM and to over 460 per KM for the Broadway Subway.

“The escalation in transit project costs in our region, where the estimated cost of the Surrey surface rail exceeds the as built cost of the Canada line subway, is distressing. Surface rail should cost far far less than either subway lines or elevated sky train. Why should it cost five times more to build surface rail in Surrey than in San Diego?

Its is also hard to understand why the Broadway subway costs four times more per KM than the Canada Line subway. At what price point does this become a bad deal for the taxpayers and the city?

I fear that the public has a very limited appetite for such big ticket projects, and that we are better served if we look for less expensive systems that can go farther and serve more people,” said Prof. Patrick Condon, SALA UBC.

Escalating costs point to important details being left out of the public consultation phase. At the public sessions Translink spokespeople told us off the record that the reason that costs keep rising is due to municipalities pilling on infrastructure upgrades onto transit projects.

I contacted Translink for cost estimates the first week in February. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any cost estimates to share now. We are still working with senior government on scope, costs and risks related to both projects,” replied Chris Bryan, Senior Media Relations Advisor, Translink.

It is difficult to understand how a regional transportation authority consults the public about two major transportation projects without having the costs of the proposals already in hand.

The conclusion we draw is that Translink construction costs are being padded with municipal infrastructure upgrades not related to transit. Along Broadway, the King George Highway, and 104 Avenue extra costs will pay to support hi-rise development not envisioned before now. While these ‘free’ infrastructure upgrades will net the municipalities a windfall in new property taxes, they will deliver to taxpayers a transit network hamstrung by municipal pork.

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THE NEXT ARTICLE IN THIS SERIES WILL EXAMINE THE POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF OFF-SHORE CAPITAL FLOWS AND RESTRICTIVE ZONING ON SOARING PROPERTY VALUES IN METRO VANCOUVER.

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