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The Dunsmuir Street Viaduct, adjacent to the Georgia Street Viaduct, in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak For the Globe and Mail)
The Dunsmuir Street Viaduct, adjacent to the Georgia Street Viaduct, in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak For the Globe and Mail)

Vancouver weighing fate of aging viaducts Add to ...

A tricky piece of engineering work is about to begin as Vancouver considers tearing down the half-century-old viaducts that connect its downtown to the east.

The city is seeking proposals from design firms on ways to create a new section of Georgia Street so that it connects to Pacific Boulevard – 13.5 metres, or 44 feet, below – in a road network that will replace the viaducts.

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The road design is one of the main pieces of technical work needed before city council makes a final decision on whether to demolish the two mini-bridges.

Two viaducts, one on Georgia that carries traffic heading east and a second on Dunsmuir Street for westbound traffic, take vehicles past the escarpment that marks the eastern edge of downtown and over a section of northeast False Creek and Chinatown.

The city is studying a proposal to tear down both and replace them with a new section of Georgia Street.

“The new roadway would be Georgia down to Pacific. And part of that roadway would have to be on a structure,” said the city’s transportation director, Jerry Dobrovolny.

“They need to look at how many columns it would be, how big the beams need to be.”

Mr. Dobrovolny’s team has already said that Pacific Boulevard would have to be raised by two full metres to create a gentler, wheelchair-accessible slope as a new Georgia Street comes down to the water in the east.

The firm that is chosen for the project after the bid process closes on Jan. 14 will also need to come up with a design for a massive set of stairs next to the new street.

Those stairs, which would overlook False Creek almost like a set of stadium bleachers, are meant to provide an interesting pedestrian experience and fill in the empty land next to the new street.

Even though many people think the demolition of the viaducts is a done deal, Mr. Dobrovolny emphasized that council will not make a final decision until the engineering and design studies are finished. That will likely take more than a year.

Vancouver city councillors decided unanimously last July to authorize moving ahead with technical studies on various aspects of a viaducts-demolition plan.

When the idea for the viaduct removal surfaced almost four years ago, many were skeptical about the prospect of removing a major commuter route from the east.

However, after a lot of public discussion and a design competition two and a half years ago that drew dozens of proposals for northeast False Creek if the viaducts were taken down, many groups got accustomed to the idea.

Charles Gauthier, the CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said his group has not taken a position yet on the issue. However, his members did support having the city do more exploratory work – like what will be happening with the new design for Georgia Street.

“Having Georgia as a true ceremonial street all the way to the end is attractive to us. We’re intrigued with the idea,” Mr. Gauthier said. “And it’s good to see the work is moving forward.”

But he said business owners are still concerned about some of the details.

Other work must still be done before any demolition plan can be finalized.

The city will need to negotiate land swaps or accommodations with both Pavco, the government agency that owns and operates BC Place to the south of the viaducts, and the Aquilini company, which owns and manages the Rogers arena, which sits between the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts.

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