In the coming days, City of Vancouver staff will provide the Vancouver City Council with an update on the planning initiatives for the UBC SkyTrain Extension.
This will be the first time the City Council will discuss the Millennium Line expansion between the future Arbutus Station and the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus since early 2019, when the City Council approved a seamless SkyTrain expansion as the technology for the expansion.
Alvin Singh, the communications director for the mayor of Vancouver’s office, told the Daily Hive Urbanized that a preferred route and adjustment for the project will be presented to the city council by city staff.
“Vancouver cities are advancing their process to discuss route preferences and station options, and we’ll receive their feedback at the upcoming City Council meeting,” TransLink spokesman Dan Mountain told the Daily Hive Urbanized, while also stressing that the public transportation authority is not seeking any endorsement or approval from the city at present.
“TransLink continues to study alignment and station capabilities and performs technical work to assess the benefits and costs of various options for a potential UBC SkyTrain expansion.”
TransLink’s updated planning details today indicate that they are assessing possible route and station locations, including station options at either Jericho Lands or near Sasamat Street, a potential future infill station near University Endowment Lands (UEL), a potential second station within UBC campus to the south near Wesbrook Village, and the potential for where the train lane could be raised along University Boulevard.
For much of the past two decades, it was assumed that the eventual UBC SkyTrain expansion would reflect 99 B-Line routes and bus stops, with stations located at Macdonald Street, Alma Street, Sasamat Street and the core of the UBC campus.
But the advent of the Jericho Lands redevelopment – a partnership between the local First Nations and the federal crown company Canada Lands Company – has thrown a potential Sasamat Street Station serving West Point Gray retail village away from its former high level of security.
In October 2021, as part of the process of creating Jericho Land’s Policy Statement, prosecutors and the City of Vancouver unveiled a draft concept for the 90-acre redevelopment of the former West Point Gray military base. There can be up to 10 million square feet of floor space, including 9,000 homes for up to 18,000 people, and about one million square feet of office, retail, restaurant and institutional space.
Planners and advocates for the Jericho lands have envisioned a SkyTrain station on the site, located in the northwest quadrant of the sloping site – where significant office and cultural spaces are currently being proposed.
Such a station location would be a significant route deviation from the previously anticipated extension route that follows West 10th Avenue west of Alma Street. The precise location of the station would have major implications for the scope and design of the Jericho Lands project and the cost of the SkyTrain expansion.
Likewise, the UBC administration, which has been very supportive of the project, has requested another on-campus station serving the southern half of the campus.
The line is also considered – the segments of the route that will be underground, at ground level or elevated.
City staff have previously stated that they would recommend an underground extension west of Arbutus Station within their jurisdiction. A very preliminary study commissioned by TransLink on the potential routing and alignment suggested the possibility of an elevated segment along University Boulevard through the UEL, with a tunnel-to-elevated transition located just west of Blanca Street.
In an email to the Daily Hive Urbanized, Paul Storer, director of transportation for the City of Vancouver, said city staff are unable to share details of their upcoming report to city council in advance, but noted that it will be published very soon.
The report with further information and recommendations comes to the City Council only a few months prior to TransLink’s Mayors’ Council process of determining its investment plan update.
Mountain says a regional public consultation will be held on potential projects that should be included in the next 10-year priority list from the TransLinks Transport 2050 plan, the region’s 30-year transport expansion and improvement strategy, which was recently approved and completed by Council of Mayors.
This includes not only the UBC SkyTrain Extension, but also major projects such as the proposed North Shore SkyTrain project and the Burnaby Mountain Gondola, which serves Simon Fraser University’s main campus.
“When looking at the overall regional investment plan, it is useful for decision-making if there is clarity about whether individual municipalities support projects,” Storer said.
If the City Council and TransLink’s board approve the inclusion of UBC SkyTrain, the next step will be to start the business case process to establish the project design in detail.
In July 2021, the federal and provincial governments each undertook to cover 40% of the cost of the detailed planning and business case work for UBC SkyTrain, while the remaining 20% is expected to be covered by TransLink. The public transportation authority previously estimated that the business case work would cost between $ 30 and $ 40 million.
A spring 2021 survey conducted by TransLink showed that 92% of Metro Vancouver residents support the expansion of SkyTrain to UBC.