Feds fund North Shore rapid transit business case

The federal government is kicking in $250,000 to make the case for a rapid transit line connecting the North Shore to the other side of Burrard Inlet.

North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson announced the funding on Tuesday morning in Lower Lonsdale. It will allow the City of North Vancouver to carry out an economic impact assessment of a potential rapid transit link downtown.

The new study is meant to build on the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project led by North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP MLA Bowinn Ma in 2018. In May, the province announced funding for a rapid transit feasibility study to examine what would be technically possible, given the physical geography and land use constraints. The study announced Tuesday is to examine the all-important financials – both costs and benefits.

Wilkinson said he was less concerned about whether a rapid transit link is technically possible and more about the economics.

“There are lots of places in the world that have done it. I don’t think that’s the particular issue. It’s can you actually justify the costs? Can you ensure the ridership is sufficient to address most of the costs, and what are the benefits beyond that from a business and growth perspective – from a livability perspective that you get from doing it versus if you don’t?” he said.

City Mayor Linda Buchanan welcomed the funding, which she hopes will tackle the North Shore’s congestion woes at their source, as they were revealed in the INSTPP report.

“More and more people from across the region are commuting to and through the North Shore each day for their employment, recreation or to reach a destination,” she said. “Recent data tells us the North Shore created more jobs in the last few years than workers and four times as many commute to the North Shore each day than commute out.”

Buchanan said her council pursued the grant because, when it comes time for the next round of major transit expansions in the Lower Mainland, she wanted the city to have done its homework when competing with other municipalities for funding.

“It is really a long-term solution and that work has to start now because these are projects that are 10, 15 years in the making sometimes, just to get all the pieces together and get a commitment for long-term funding. They’re billion dollar projects,” she said. “When the mayors’ council comes together, the North Shore has put in place the pieces that we need in order to demonstrate we need this solution over the long term.”

North Vancouver Chamber CEO Patrick Stafford-Smith welcomed the announcement.

“Oh, I think this fantastic news,” he said. “Understanding the economic impact of transportation is a significant consideration across Metro Vancouver.

Stafford-Smith said the business community has already been doing some of the groundwork and is eager to supply data about employee commutes for the business case.

“All the work that we’ve seen so far shows there is a significant number of businesses within a very short distance of where transit investment could be and, they’re all coming from across the water,” he said. “We’re working on behalf of all of the North Shore at the moment. … We’re going to continue to push to see this investment. It’s the future of our economy in the region and if we don’t invest in our transportation network, we won’t be competitive in North America anymore.”

Burnaby-North Seymour Liberal MP Terry Beech said he was eager to see some data on the “direct and indirect” benefits that would flow to both sides of his riding, which are linked by congested bridge.

“Coming over the Second Narrows bridge, sometimes I can get over in 15, 20 minutes. Sometimes it’s more than an hour like it was this morning,” he said. “It’s unacceptable. We need to fix it. That’s why we’re here today.”

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little said it was critical to have the federal government on-side and that the study would be a great first step. “We’ll have to hold their feet to the fire through the election and in the coming years to make sure those priorities are being addressed,” he said.