VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The vision for a Vancouver without viaducts is becoming more clear after a presentation to city council this morning, and the vision isn’t cheap.  One estimate shows costs totalling $80 million, but the city could be on the hook for up to $100 million.

That’s according to City Engineer Jerry Dobrovolny who doesn’t yet know how that money would be recouped. Regardless, he says city polling shows major support for the plan and insists drivers living outside Vancouver were included in that research.

Diagrams show Expo and Pacific Boulevards combined into one ‘super street’ with six lanes each way.  Parking would be restricted during peak hours, and the revamped road would include bike lanes and sidewalks.  It would be surrounded by a swath of new parkland and development, with a re-graded Georgia Street brought down with a ramp and stairs to False Creek.

“We’re confident that the new roadway can provide for the needed vehicle trips,” says Dobrovolny. “It’s important to us that the road system is not congested.  The road system has to function.  We understand that and we’re confident that it will.”

A model produced by city staff, though, seems to show a congestion problem that doesn’t exist as of today. It will be created in afternoon peak hours by combining traffic flows from the viaducts to a new Pacific Boulevard.  Dobrovolny expects, over time, that traffic will divert to other streets like Cordova and Hastings, as well as the False Creek bridges.
Staff also expects the Evergreen Line to reduce traffic into downtown, as many trips by car are made by people living in the northeast sector of the Lower Mainland.

The latest vision for northeast False Creek could see demolition of the viaducts and construction of new roadways and parks happen in a much shorter time frame than the original estimate of 15 years. The city envisions new commercial and residential real estate where the stretch of viaducts between Main and Gore currently lies.

Access to Dunsmuir Street from Expo Boulevard would be closed in favour of relocating all traffic to Georgia Street.  Areas now occupied by Concord Pacific would be converted into 25 acres of waterfront parkland including a beach area and large, open fields.

Council is expected vote in the fall on whether to remove the viaducts and if passed, work could be done in three years.While all appears positive, Dobrovolny insists it’s not a done deal.

Mayor Gregor Robertson agrees.  He says there are multiple issues that still need to be worked out and has outlined five demands for his approval. They include addressing concerns from residents along Prior Street.  He’s calling for immediate traffic calming measures, and a way to divert traffic around the Strathcona neighbourhood with the paving of a new Malkin Street Connector — what could be the city’s first major new roadway in years.

“Addressing that is overdue, and certainly it can be addressed with the decisions going forward,” Robertson told Council.  “[The Malkin Street Connector] has been in the background for years and I think it’s time to act on it.  I think there’s an opportunity with the viaducts and the Eastern Core Plan to fast track.”

Community groups in the area are pleased with the mayor’s comments.

“You know, the mayor’s statements are a real validation of the concerns we’ve been putting out there” says Pete Fry with Reclaim Prior. The group sent out a joint-statement of support with the Strathcona Residents Association.

“It’s really nice to have our concerns heard and addressed in a serious and respectful manner” he adds. “So we’re quite pleased.”

The connector project would require funding from three levels of government.  It would move traffic south of Prior around some industrial buildings, ramped up to an overpass over some rail lines to connect with Clark Drive.

Roberston’s other demands include a link on how the city’s economic development plan would be worked in, and measures to ensure the easy flow of commercial goods to and from the downtown core.  The mayor also wants a timeline created, letting people know about expanded park space and affordable housing options.

As for critics, meanwhile, Dobrovolny says cities like Toronto and Seattle are also exploring how to remove stretches of freeway.  He adds places like San Francisco and New York have already seen great success.