BY GREG SAKAKI
The City of Nanaimo and RDN Transit have received the funding they were waiting for to build a new downtown transit exchange along Terminal Avenue.
Infrastructure Canada, in a press release Monday, Sept. 18, announced the $15-million project, which will be next to the old Jean Burns building site.
According to the release, the transit exchange project includes washrooms, access upgrades, and a rest facility and bus parking on nearby Cavan Street. The city’s renderings show four drop-off and pick-up bays with shelters within the exchange, two drop-off bays along the southbound lanes of Terminal, and one drop-off and pick-up bay with a shelter along the northbound lanes of Terminal.
The release says the project is required for future transit expansion in the region, and will improve bus circulation in the downtown and support increased trip frequency. Infrastructure Canada also notes that the bus exchange will be designed to reduce “the risk and fear of crime by design, policy and shaping public spaces.”
The federal and provincial governments are each providing $6 million, with the Regional District of Nanaimo contributing $3 million and the City of Nanaimo providing the land. Bill Sims, the city’s general manager of engineering and public works, confirmed that $15 million was what had been requested by the project partners.
“It’s always site-specific, and certainly the geography of this particular site is a little challenging, so that’s part of the cost,” he said.
Sims said the project aligns with other downtown revitalization and redevelopment such as the new hotel and fast ferry service, development approvals, and Commercial Street reconstruction, and is part of a “bigger picture” for improving safety.
He said it’s the role of the regional district and B.C. Transit to deliver the project on the city’s land, but he added that the city can lead the construction process if it makes sense to do so. He said work on detailed construction drawings will start shortly, and said ideally the project would be out for tender in mid-2024 with construction to start by next fall.
Erinn Pinkerton, B.C. Transit president and CEO, said in the release that the new transit exchange “will better connect the region with affordable, efficient and reliable transportation” and support a vibrant and revitalized downtown core through improved public transportation options.
Vanessa Craig, RDN chairperson, said in the release that the federal and provincial funding will improve transit accessibility and efficiency and provide “convenient connections” between transit routes.
Mayor Leonard Krog added in the release that locating the bus exchange along Terminal Avenue is critical to building an effective transit system and revitalizing the area.
“The transit exchange will bring more people downtown to shop, work and visit our natural, historic and artistic treasures,” he said.
Kevan Shaw, past-president of the Victoria Crescent Association who organized protests against a bus exchange in the neighbourhood, said he felt the city and regional district ignored the objections of residents, business owners and property owners. He doesn’t buy the notion that a relocated bus exchange will help revitalize the downtown.
“As much as we want people to come downtown and shop, eat, play, take transit, we do not have the social disorder problems in Nanaimo – in this entire province – under control,” Shaw said. “In the downtown core we are still having fires, we’ve got assaults, we’ve got people being robbed, we’ve got needles, we’ve got stabbings, we’ve even had murders.”
He is concerned about a concentration of bus shelters and public washrooms, especially after the last bus of the night pulls out.
“We are going to see more mayhem, more chaos, more social disorder in our neighbourhood, and the blood, it will be on the hands of city council, the RDN and B.C. Transit,” he said.