Merchants, residents rejoice as Cambie Street construction ends

Side streets were closed along Cambie Street in downtown Vancouver on Saturday, as thousands of pedestrians celebrated the completion of the Canada Line, the rapid transit line whose construction caused major disruptions along its route.

'It's like having the community back alive again'

Side streets were closed along Cambie Street on Saturday, but this time there wasn't a construction crew in sight.

Instead, thousands of pedestrians took to the street to celebrate the completion of the Canada Line, the automated rail-based rapid transit service connecting the downtown Vancouver waterfront with Richmond, a suburb to the south, and Vancouver International Airport.

Susan Heyes is suing three levels of government over losses at her Cambie Street business she claims were caused by Canada Line construction. ((CBC))
Construction of the 19-kilometre line turned Cambie Street, one of Vancouver's major north-south arteries, into an obstacle course for nearly four years, making travel a nightmare for drivers and pedestrians, and costing its merchants untold millions of dollars in sales — sparking at least one lawsuit.

On Saturday, the barricades came down and as a gesture of appreciation, Canada Line officials offered the one-day party as a peace offering.

"It's to really thank everyone for their patience, as we've completed this big project and we know it's had an impact," said Jane Bird, CEO of Canada Line Rapid Transit Inc. "So it's our way to say thanks very much for your patience during construction of the project."

Neighbourhood residents are just relieved it's over.

"I thought it would never end — I thought it would just go on and on, that's what it seemed like. … I'm absolutely ecstatic," said Lillian Berno.

"It's like having the community back alive again," said Harry Peterson. "Under construction, it was all gridlocked — not many pedestrians on the sidewalks — so now it feels like there's festivity in the community, some life back on the streets."

Merchants are praying the customers who stayed away during the construction will find their way back to the area.

They include Susan Heyes, owner of the maternity wear store Hazel and Co., who has sued the city, provincial and federal governments after she said she lost $900,000 and had to re-mortgage her home because construction halted sales in her shop. The case remains before the courts.

Mary Ann McKenzie of the local BestBuy is optimistic. "Now that they've been down here and seen how nice it is and the big wide sidewalks and the access to the businesses, I think we'll see a steady increase in business over the coming months."