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Columnist Stephen Quinn. (The Globe and Mail)
Columnist Stephen Quinn. (The Globe and Mail)

City Limits

Council blinks (or maybe that was a wink) on the fate of the viaducts Add to ...

It may be a fait accompli but no one wants to call it that – in either official language.

Next week, Vancouver City Council will vote on whether to spend $2.4-million on what it calls “the next phase of the work program to inform a future decision on the removal of the viaducts.”

This is, the report to council notes prophylactically, “not the final decision to remove the viaducts.”

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It says: “Rather, if approved,

it represents another step forward with two years of detailed work …”

The report goes on to tell us that the viaducts have created “a gap in the urban fabric” and that they amount to “a psychological barrier between neighbourhoods.”

They are, according to the report, “an urban scar.”

Getting rid of them offers us an opportunity to travel back in time to the late 1960s and early 1970s and forget that we ever even considered building a freeway – to “correct a past planning wrong,” as the report puts it.

The report is comprehensive, to say the least. It details the shift in traffic patterns, opportunities for development and parkland, the impact of construction, mending the aforementioned psychological rift the spans have created, the reintegration of neighbourhoods torn apart, and countless other benefits that will emerge once the monstrosities are blown up for good.

In short, it makes a very good argument for getting rid of the things and almost no argument for why they should stay.

I’m sold. In fact, I’m more than sold, I’m pumped. Let’s do this thing.

With any luck, I’ll win the citizen lottery to push the ceremonial plunger that detonates the explosives, the result of which will be a spectacular domino-like wave of collapsing concrete and rebar from Beatty to Main. The dust will settle to reveal the broken beast. There will be cheers. The YouTube video will get piles of hits.

Only, that’s not happening. Not yet.

While the report makes the case, a final decision won’t be made until June of 2015. For those of you counting, that’s about seven months after the next civic election.

So, the question begs, why not just do it? Clearly this is where we’re headed. This is going to happen. City staff have made the case. Tearing the things down falls neatly into place with the city’s Greenest City Action Plan and our hatred of anything that allows automobiles to travel unfettered for more than 30 metres. The financial case has been made: It will cost up to $132-million to tear out the viaducts, clean up the soil and cover the scar; or, the city can spend up to $120-million maintaining and eventually, in the long term, replacing them.

So far $1-million has been spent on planning and engineering. Why another $2.4-million on more studies and plans?

“Clearly, Vision Vancouver is afraid to say yes or no to taking the viaducts down,” NPA City Councillor George Affleck told me on Wednesday, when the report was released. “They’ve gone in deep on this one. Basically, the report is the report we would have had saying yes or no to it. Instead, they change it to say we’ll get a report in 2015. Wow, what a surprise – 2015, just six months after the election.”

Vision Vancouver City Councillor Geoff Meggs said two years is what it will take to secure agreements with Concord Pacific – a key landowner – and the province, which has a responsibility to clean up contaminated soil from the site.

“This report says, basically, we want to go down that road and bring you the information we need and get those agreements because there’s no point in taking a decision that can’t be delivered,” Mr. Meggs said in an interview this week.

Mr. Meggs said that, even if the final decision doesn’t come until after the next civic election, opponents of the plan will, no doubt, try to make the viaducts an election issue. “It’s an issue I wouldn’t mind running on,” he said.

Mr. Affleck supports the plan as long as the costs are spelled out in detail.

“In the end, I think it would be beautiful – it would be a great addition. It would add value to our property, to our neighbourhoods. You think where the art gallery would be on Georgia, with the hill going down, it would be fantastic. It just makes sense.”

For now, though, we put those very vivid daydreams aside while we consider such things as soil remediation, floor space ratios and development cost levies.

Not to mention how to get all of that traffic out of downtown and to Highway 1 without sparking an open revolt in East Vancouver.

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