Vancouver city council will vote Wednesday (June 26) on whether to approve another two years of planning work on the potential removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.
According to city staff, the report before council marks a "turning point" in determining the future of the elevated roadways and the land that surrounds them.
“This is not just a small step—this is the next step in a process,” Brian Jackson, the city’s general manager of planning and development, told council today (June 25).
Jerry Dobrovolny, Vancouver’s director of transportation, said if the recommendations are approved by council on Wednesday, work over the next two years will include soil analysis, negotiations with neighbouring property owners, and conceptual designs.
Dobrovolny noted there are a series of potential challenges that remain during the initial two-year process.
“There’s many things that could come up—contaminated soil issues, cost issues, it requires a number of deals with neighbouring landowners,” he told the Straight. “They may or may not be willing, because the new road alignment requires the exchange of property.”
Jackson told council the city will not "be held ransom" by any developer or agency.
“We want to make this work, and we will be reporting out if the negotiations aren’t successful," he said. "But we believe that our partners are true to their word in supporting us in this initiative and we look forward to bringing forward a report within two years to take us to the next step.”
The report before council outlines what staff say would be the benefits of replacing the viaducts with a new roadway.
Jackson said the removal of the viaducts could free up almost seven acres of land for development, including ground-floor shops, and residential buildings with a 20 percent affordable housing component. It would also lead to a 13 percent increase in parks and open space.
Mayor Gregor Robertson described the land the viaducts are located on as “the last, large, underutilized area in the city’s core”. According to Robertson, empty parking lots beneath and to the sides of the elevated roadways only come alive during summer events.
“There’s nothing else this scale where the city can take what is a dead zone and transform it into a quality of life and economic opportunity as well,” he said.
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs said council has reached the moment at which it needs to "make a turning point".
"I think staff have made that clear, to decide that we should pursue this opportunity,” he told reporters. “Not at all costs, not blindly and at the expense of being overpowered by somebody who might want to stand in the way, but I don’t think anybody does. My conversations with the communities around there and the landowners are all very positive.”
Staff estimate removing the viaducts and creating a new street and open-space network will cost between $115 to $132 million over the next five to 10 years. The first two-year phase of study is expected to cost $2.4 million. About $1 million has been spent on planning and engineering work to date.
The value of the 10 acres of land that would be freed up if the viaducts are torn down is estimated at $100 million to $110 million.
"The viaducts and associated land are City-owned assets, and as part of the overall plan would be repurposed for use as public open space, affordable housing or other public use," the staff report reads. "In addition, some of the land can be sold for residential/commercial development."
If council approves the recommendations, staff will report back within two years. At that point, council will vote on whether to proceed with another two-year phase, featuring detailed engineering work. Construction would take place in a third phase, starting in 2017.
Council will hear presentations from the public Wednesday (June 26) at 2 p.m. before voting on the recommendations.