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Big changes coming to North Van's Phibbs Exchange bus loop

The $30-million project should modernize the transit hub and make the commute a lot more pleasant

For the first time in its almost-50-year history, North Vancouver’s Phibbs Exchange is set to go through a major overhaul.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, along with the federal government, is funding a $30-million upgrade to bring the bus loop up to modern standards and increase its capacity.

“They will find a Phibbs Exchange that is much more friendly and welcoming for transit users,” said Bowinn Ma, North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP MLA and minister of state for infrastructure.

The footprint of the transit hub is expected to grow by about 50 per cent, taking up the remaining unused space between Orwell Street and Highway 1.

When it’s finished, it will have 12 bus bays covered by glass shelters, improved lighting, a comfort station for bus drivers to go to between runs, and a commercial retail space. It will be up to TransLink to decide which business will occupy the space but it will likely be a coffee shop, Ma said.

The new Phibbs Exchange will be designed to accommodate more articulated buses, which will become highly important when the new Bus Rapid Transit system begins rolling out in the next few years, as well as double-decker buses, should they be put into use on the North Shore.

For pedestrians and cyclists, there will be new multi-use path on the south side of the site and west side of the site and there will also be bike lockers on site.

Better stormwater drainage will decrease the likelihood of flooding on nearby Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and the new state-of-the art drainage systems designed to prevent petrochemicals and sediment from leaching into nearby waterways, Ma said.

With more than 16,000 passengers passing through per day – most of them commuters from Burnaby and all points east – Phibbs is one of the most important pieces of transportation infrastructure on the North Shore. But it’s also one of the most unpleasant, Ma acknowledged.

“We've heard from a lot of people that Phibbs Exchange is just terrible from a user perspective. It's dark at night. It can be scary for passengers who are travelling alone,” she said. “It's clear that the demand on Phibbs Exchange has outgrown what it can actually provide. And on top of that, we want more people to feel comfortable riding on public transit.

"The more we can incentivize and enable transit usage, the better off we will all be, including those of us who drive.”

Work is expected to start in late September or early October and last until spring 2024.

In order to keep the transit exchange functioning during the year-and-a-half of work, Ma said the construction will likely have to be done in phases. The construction plan will be one of the criteria the ministry will be considering before awarding the design and construction contracts.

“It will look a bit confusing and messy,” Ma said. “My understanding is that TransLink staff will be on site to help direct customers because things will be changing.”

A major upgrade of Phibbs has been on the agenda for years, but an administrative error made in how the land was dedicated in the 1960s that wasn’t discovered until 2018 set the project back. Correcting that error required an all new process within the ministry, Ma said. That also required the budget to be upped, thanks to escalation of costs happening all over the province, she added.

The tender documents also provide incentives for the winning contractor to demonstrate opportunities for Indigenous workers and businesses

In a release, federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities Dominic LeBlanc said the federal funding will help the North Shore grow.

“Efficient and affordable public transit help communities grow and develop. Upgrades to the Phibbs Transit Exchange will make this vital transit hub safer and support community expansion on the North Shore. Our government is proud to work with our partners to support convenient, inclusive, and sustainable public transportation,” he said.

Phibbs Exchange opened on Oct. 19, 1973. Since then, it has only ever had minor upgrades.