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City hall staff making strong case for viaduct removal

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Staff at city hall in Vancouver are making a strong case for removing the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts.  A report presented at Tuesday’s regular council meeting could be voted on as early as Wednesday.

“This is a turning point,” says Brian Jackson, General Manager, Planning and Development Services.  “This is not just a small step, this is the next step”

“In Toronto, they’ve been trying to take down the Gardner Expressway for decades and they’ve never come to the point where they’ve moved the process along and created specific work programs, put funding toward that, and allocated the staff resources,” says Jackson.

But that’s what they’d be asking council to do.

The recommendations in the staff report include development of an area plan for the viaducts/Northeast False Creek area over the next 24 months.  That would give staff the ability to develop recommendations for False Creek North Offical Development Plan.

It would also allow the city to negotiate agreements with landowners and the province regarding property rights-of-way, land exchanges, and environmental obligations, while completing a financial analysis of the viaducts project.

Also, the plan includes recommendations about deveopment in the eastern core of the city, with emphasis on jobs, sustainability, and traffic.

The budget for this work, the concept development phase, is about $3 million.

One of the biggest concerns about removing the viaducts is the impact on traffic.  The city’s Director of Transportation says the work can be done with minimal impacts.

“The question that I get asked all the time is ‘well, where do the cars go, how would this system work,'” says Jerry Dobrovolny.

“The short answer is they essentially stay where they are today,” he responds.

“The new roadway has the capacity to serve the needs of the downtown and we don’t see the shifting of vehicles to other routes.”

Even during construction, Dobrovolny does not anticipate major disruptions for traffic in-and-out of the city.

“We would build as much of the new roadway as possible and then there would be, as quick as possible, a transfer point where you would bring down that small section of viaduct, close the gap on the new road, and bring it into service.”

Ultimately, drivers would notice significant changes.  The plans call for Georgia to become a two-way street, ending at Pacific Boulevard.  Dunsmuir would become a dead-end street, terminating at Beatty.The staff report also predicts traffic will be reduced by up to 10% on other streets in the city affected by the viaduct removal, including Prior and Quebec.

And council has been told east Vancouver would benefit on many fronts, especially in neighbourhoods like Chinatown and the north end of Main Street, if the viaducts go.

Jackson, the Planning and Develoment manager, says removing the viaducts will repair damage done to neighbourhoods when the elevated roadways were built.

“The construction of the viaducts in the 1970s created a significant gap in Main Street, seperating the communities to the north from those developing to the south, and destroying the retail and commercial opportunities,” he says.

“Removing the viaducts represents an opportunity to repair Main Street.”

The tentative plan for the area includes seven acres of space for new housing and retail development, including social housing, and three acres for a new waterfront park.

Jackson says redeveloping the area closes the gap between neighbourhoods, bringing back shops and services, and restoring a vibrant pedestrian connection.

He also told council removal of the viaducts dovetails nicely with existing council policies, including  the False Creek North Official Development Plan (1990), Northeast False Creek: Directions for the Future (2009), Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2012-2021 (2011), Greenest City 2020 Action Plan (2011), Greater Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy (2011), Transportation 2040 (2012), and several others.