The Sum of Zwei’s Fears – Part 3 The New FastFerry Fiasco

It is interesting indeed that Vancouver Sun columnist, Vaughn Palmer is writing about transit and the two massively expensive rapid transit projects, the Surrey LRT and the Broadway subway.

With both federal and provincial backing, these two ill conceived projects will cripple transit planning for the next quarter century. In the long term at least, Surrey’s LRT id flexible enough to have much cheaper extensions added, unlike the propitiatory SkyTrain light-metro.

Vancouver, wants a subway as a driver for major property development along Broadway, as in the city of the rich and famous, transit is strictly for the lower classes, students and the elderly.

But back to the Vancouver Sun, the great champion of SkyTrain and the Canada Line; why allow negative stories?

The answer I think, the media barons back east smell another FastFerry type fiasco that they can hang on the NDP.

The question I ask is; “Where was Palmer and the Sun , two, three, four years ago when the travesty of public consultations was taking place, complete with the Vision Vancouver goon squad threatening or shouting down all those questioning both transit projects?”

Yes, where were you then?

Oh yes, the Liberals were in power and reporters treating Liberal news releases as news!

Vaughn Palmer: SFU research flags costs, scrutiny, merits for B.C. transit projects

The overall impression from the SFU research is the two B.C. projects, Surrey light rail and the SkyTrain extension in Vancouver, are the most expensive in the country.

VICTORIA — As Gregor Robertson prepares to leave office after a decade as mayor of Vancouver, the timing underscores the soaring cost of his enthusiasm for extending transit across the west side of the city to the University of B.C.

Back on the eve of the 2013 provincial election, Robertson, then in his second term, released a study — jointly funded with UBC — that made a jobs and economic development case for extending SkyTrain by subway along the Broadway corridor and out to the Point Grey campus.

What is currently a powerhouse for jobs will suffer and be choked off” by “gridlock and over-stretched transit,” Robertson told reporters as city officials distributed a report showing employment and population along the corridor would grow by 150,000 over 30 years.

Cost estimate for the entire project was $2.8 billion, which at the time seemed like a sobering amount.

Today, as Robertson comes to the end of his third term, three levels of government are preparing to spend roughly that amount — $2.83 billion — just to construct the first phase of the extension, from  Clark Drive to Arbutus, a distance of 5.7 kilometres.

To get SkyTrain all the way out to UBC would mean constructing another seven to eight kilometres of line, depending on the chosen route and number of stations on campus.

Published estimates for covering the remaining distance are on the order of $2.6 billion. But I would treat that number as wishful thinking, given the cost of inflation over the last five years and the likelihood that construction won’t start until after Phase 1 is completed in 2025.

So in the space of five years, the estimated cost of getting SkyTrain to UBC has at least doubled and maybe tripled. 

Yet the provincial government has provided no specific justification for the escalation, other than vague generalities about inflation and the cost of materials, labour and land, none of it backed up with detailed breakdowns.

Raising additional doubts is an email I received this week from Stephan Nieweler, a transportation instructor and doctoral researcher in the geography department at Simon Fraser University.

He and his students have produced some telling cost comparisons between transit projects elsewhere in Canada versus the Broadway SkyTrain extension and the recently approved Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail project.

The numbers for the Metro Vancouver projects are shocking compared to those in other cities,” wrote Nieweler.

By way of example, he sent along several pages from a power point presentation showing how transit was being built for less money and/or over greater distances in Ontario (Waterloo, Ottawa, Toronto), Alberta (Calgary, Edmonton), Manitoba and Quebec.

There were differences between the types of systems and schedules for completion, making precise comparisons difficult.

Still, the overall impression from the SFU research is the two B.C. projects, Surrey light rail and the SkyTrain extension in Vancouver, are the most expensive in the country.

He also sent along details from a second research project that weighed the merits of an 11-kilometre light rail line along the North Vancouver waterfront, stretching from Capilano University in the east past Park Royal and into West Vancouver.

In terms of population and employment density along the route, Nieweler concluded there’s a better case for the North Shore light rail project than either Surrey light rail or extending SkyTrain to UBC.

He presented those findings to the integrated North Shore planning project, chaired by North Vancouver NDP MLA Bowinn Ma. In light of that, he lamented the diluted enthusiasm for North Shore light rail in the panel report released last week.

He went on to speculate that senior government officials and TransLink planners had discouraged the panel from making any recommendations on light rail that would compete with the just-approved projects in Vancouver and Surrey.

The point being, that our governments are not engaging in performance-based investment,” wrote Nieweler, citing the “mantra” that was prevalent at TransLink when he worked for the regional transportation authority several years back.

I think the public needs to know how these decisions are made, and why our leaders have chosen to proceed with the costliest surface light rail and Metro projects in Canadian history without the scrutiny that they deserve.”

He makes a good case for proper scrutiny. But who would undertake it at this late date, other than perhaps the independent auditor-general, is not at all apparent.

As noted here earlier this week, neither TransLink nor the provincial government is inclined to share any detailed rationalization for why it is costing half a billion dollars a kilometre to tunnel under Broadway and $160 million a kilometre to build on the surface in Surrey.


When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan made a joint announcement on the Vancouver and Surrey transit projects earlier this month, more than a few observers noted it was not, in fact, news because both governments had endorsed those projects before.

Rather their purpose seemed to be to declare the projects a fait accompli in advance of the Oct. 20 civic elections.

We’ve locked in this funding for the next 10 years,” declared Trudeau.

This is about locking this down,” echoed Horgan. “This is happening. This is not being revisited. The cheque is in the mail. We are going to be building.”

The debate is over, so far as the politicians are concerned. But for taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning.

Leave A Comment