Thursday, February 26, 2009

Evergreen Line Annoucement

It is good to hear that the federal government is contributing money towards the Evergreen Line. The extra $350 000 000 being offered by the federal government will cover about 1/4 of the current estimated construction costs. This brings the federal contribution to just a bit more than what the provincial one of $410 000 000 and Translink's $400 000 000.

The federal announcement leaves the project short about $173 000 000, that assumes that there will be no rise in the costs. My hope is that Translink uses the model used for the Canada Line. The public private model has kept construction costs in line, though Translink could be on the hook for costs if the ridership numbers do not come as expected.

Most rapid transit projects suffer from two major problems in the planning process - underestimation of capital costs and overestimation of ridership. This problem is so consistent that could can almost estimate the cost overruns. If you are interested, take a look at the work of Bent Flyvbjerg at Aalborg University in Denmark. The best way to stop this problem is a public private partnership. Max Bazerman at Harvard has done interesting work into public decision making on large projects.

A fully public built Evergreen Line has a realistic potential of capital cost of around $2 000 000 000. The business case makes some assumptions as to ridership, 22 900 000 by 2021 and 31 800 000 by 2031. I have no way to judge if these numbers are accurate, but going on past experience of light rail systems elsewhere, the numbers are likely high. What happens if ridership numbers are not met?

It is clear given the geography of the Metro Vancouver that more light rail transit is needed because the region simply can not move the people on the roads via car and bus as is needed. All the top rapid transit needs not only in BC, but in Canada, are located in the lower mainland. I say this because people in Victoria keeping raising the need to rail rapid transit as a priority, but it is not nearly close to some of the needs in the lower mainland now:
  • There is clear and immediate need for rail transit out to UBC - following Broadway to UBC needs to move along in the plans now.
  • The Expo Line needs to go out to Langley
  • There is a need for a WestCoast Express on the south side of the river going out to Chilliwack.
  • There is a need to eventually build the Canada Line all the way to the Deas Island tunnel - there is a major working centre there that needs better transit and a major entertainment centre as well.
  • There is a need for a rapid transit line to go from Edmonds to Annacis Island and then on through to North Delta and to Newton.
  • A line along 41st and then 49th from UBC through to Metrotown.
  • Extending the Evergreen line should eventually go out towards Pitt Meadows
  • There should be a short branch from Braid station running past all the big box and industrial in south Coquitlam. Eventually this could run over the new Port Mann bridge
Some of the lines are in the early planning stages and have support from the provincial government. Other ones have groups arguing for them. Because of the geography of Metro Vancouver and all the bridges involved, no other major city in Canada has the same sort of transportation problems. No other city in Canada needs to be able to get commuters off of the roads as badly as Vancouver needs to.

The Northshore does not have the population, or projected growth in population, to make any sense for rail transit. Ladner, Tsawwasen and the ferry terminal are too spread out from each other and too low a population to justify rail transit.

Metro Vancouver has been expanding the system on a consistent basis year in and year out since the mid 1980s. There is at least another generation of work that needs to be done before things even get close to being enough.
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