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British Columbia Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart calls for UBC subway project to be in service by 2030

A TransLink bus is shown above travelling on the West Broadway in Vancouver, B.C., on March 22, 2017. Mayor Kennedy Stewart has supported the city's effort to get the Broadway line extended past Arbutus all the way to the university.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver’s mayor wants a SkyTrain line to the University of British Columbia up and running by 2030, urging federal and provincial governments to commit within the next two years to the extra money needed for the project.

The long-debated subway line along Broadway is TransLink’s next big undertaking, with construction set to begin in 2020 for an extension that would take the line halfway from the current stop at Clark Drive to Arbutus Street in the west. But the line is currently only funded to Arbutus, with buses expected to carry passengers the rest of the way to the university.

But in a report released Wednesday, staff confirmed a SkyTrain link all the way to the school is the best transit option for the future and now Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he’ll be lobbying for the extra $4-billion to get it in service by 2030.

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Mr. Stewart said he has spoken to NDP Premier John Horgan about the extension and received a positive response.

“It’s apparent to the province this is a good project,” he said.

UBC has indicated that it is willing to provide money for the extension. And Mr. Stewart said he’ll be in Ottawa on Monday to lobby the Prime Minister on the same topic.

Other regional mayors appear to be onside with moving the project forward faster than originally planned, Mr. Stewart said. “This does feel like the window is opening.”

The strong push from Vancouver and UBC for the line comes amid some upheaval with transit plans for the region.

After mayors agreed on an overall proposal in 2015 that included a subway extension in Vancouver from Commercial Drive to Arbutus and a new light-rail system in Surrey, newly elected Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum cancelled the Surrey project late last year and has demanded that the money be put toward a SkyTrain line from central Surrey to central Langley.

He and Vancouver’s mayor have strongly supported each other in the past few months of TransLink mayors’ meetings, with Mr. Stewart endorsing the change in Surrey while Mr. McCallum has supported Vancouver’s effort to get the Broadway line extended past Arbutus all the way to the university.

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The staff report going to the mayors’ council concluded, after studying various rapid-bus and street-level light-rail options, that “a SkyTrain extension to UBC is the only technology that would accommodate the forecast ridership on the Broadway corridor and allow for future expansion in the longer term.”

The staff report concludes that the currently planned piece of a Broadway subway, from Commercial to Arbutus, would result in almost 200,000 passengers a day by 2045 and the Arbutus to UBC segment would get almost 120,000 passengers.

The report does not specify where the extension should be below ground and where above ground, nor does it have a final alignment. There has been talk for years that the line should potentially swing down to the Jericho lands near Alma Street that are going to be developed by the three local First Nations groups that co-own it with the federal government.

Jonathan Coté, who is the chair of the TransLink mayors’ council and the mayor of New Westminster, said he wouldn’t rule out support for expediting the line.

He said that federal and provincial politicians may be looking to make transit promises in the next few months, which the region should take advantage of. “We have a federal and another provincial election coming. So the council will be wanting to prioritize what is our next big ask.”

Mayors in Coquitlam, Port Moody and Richmond all say that adding the UBC extension is an idea worth considering, although they also note that there are a lot of demands from other parts of the region for better transit.

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