Vancouver City Council Votes to Erase Last Vestiges of Freeway System

An artist rendering of what the space now occupied by viaducts will look like. Image: City of Vancouver via CBC
An artist’s rendering of what the space now occupied by viaducts will look like. Image: City of Vancouver via CBC

Vancouver is famous for not having any freeways within the central city. But highway building got underway before public opposition quashed the freeway system in the early 1970s, and a couple of fragments of the old freeway structure have remained in the form of two short elevated roads.

Not for long, however.

CBC Canada reports that the Vancouver City Council voted yesterday to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. The city plans to add 13 acres of parks on the newly available space. Two city blocks will also be preserved for housing, including 300 below-market units.

The viaducts will be replaced by a four-lane, at-grade road. Planners estimate converting the viaducts to surface street will add about one to three minutes to motor vehicle trips. It would have cost $50 to $65 million to upgrade the viaducts to make them safe in case of an earthquake.

Tearing down the viaducts will cost about $200 million. But Business Vancouver reports the city expects to come out ahead when all is said and done:

The city anticipates the project will be paid for with development-related revenues, the sale or lease of lands, senior government contributions and “other strategic partnerships.” The city expects it will generate a surplus of $100 million once the project is finalized.

The project won’t be complete until 2025.

Interestingly leaders in Toronto recently moved in the opposite decision — voting to keep their elevated downtown freeway intact in the belief that saving drivers a few minutes was of paramount importance. It will be interesting to see how these diverging decisions affect these cities going forward.

17 thoughts on Vancouver City Council Votes to Erase Last Vestiges of Freeway System

  1. Small correction – I don’t believe the viaducts were damaged in an earthquake, I think the issue is that they require seismic upgrading to _withstand_ an earthquake, so the cost to keep them includes doing this significant work.

  2. Believe me, plenty of Torontonians are still furious over the political mess of voting to keep an elevated highway segment downtown. It’s simply a legacy of the kind of lowbrow thinking that Rob Ford poisoned the city with, so attractive to low-information types that his successor has been unable to steer them away from. It will take years to re-educate the masses and the electeds as to how cities are supposed to be designed.

  3. Author might’ve confused it with Seattle’s viaduct, which was damaged in the 2001 earthquake and will eventually come down…hopefully.

  4. Lol, there’s no comparison with Toronto, that is the city who elected, and CONTINUES to elect Rob Ford into their government. This is the city who over the past some years is actually in the red on bike lanes, i.e., they’ve torn out more than they’ve built.

  5. You have3 no clue what you’re talking about. There’s been more miles of bike lanes built in Toronto in the last two years than have been torn down in the last ten years.

  6. Hopefully we can tear down the viaduct in Syracuse, NY too. (It’s falling apart and would cost hundreds of millions to repair or replace.)

  7. I absolutely know what I’m talking about. I was there, I remember Rob for tearing out bike lanes. Maybe that’s changed in the past couple of years, but it doesn’t change a city where a mayor is celebrated, and continues to win elections for tearing out bike lanes.

  8. They did. It was called the “Surface and Transit” option. The powerbrokers at the state legislature in Olympia refused to consider it.

    The option which was preferred by the technical people was the “shallow tunnel combined with seawall”. The seawall had to be replaced anyway, so they figured, use the new seawall as the western wall of a road tunnel. This was rejected *literally in a backroom deal at Olympia* in favor of the “Deep Bore Tunnel”.

    The Deep Bore Tunnel had previously been rejected by the technical people as way too risky and way too expensive. So the disaster was predictable AND predicted.

    By the way, Seattle still has to finish replacing the seawall. Only they’re doing it a much more complicated and unreliable way. For the same cost, they could have built the shallow tunnel.


  9. Sooner or later if too much suburban commuter time is wasted by inner-city opposition to road speeds faster than a crawl suburbanites may choose to spend their disposable income anywhere but in the city, and believe me, as I have more than 30 years of experience in the field, if delivery truck access is substantially slowed by inner-city anti- traffic-speed policies costs for city deliveries will rise which will drive-up prices and/or hold wage growth down too.

  10. They could still build the shallow tunnel as part of a seawall project, which would compliment the deep bore tunnel, and perhaps provide some degree of relief to I-5.

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