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Funding for $1.9-billion Broadway subway hits bump in road

Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner perplexed by comments from MLA and MP over transit plan
Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner told Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson (far left) and Liberal MLA Andrew Wilkinson Tuesday that a 10-year transit and transportation plan for the region has been completed. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The region’s mayors appear to have hit a bump in the road on their way to secure billions of dollars in funding to build a Broadway subway, a rapid transit line in Surrey and a new Pattullo Bridge.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and his counterpart in Surrey, Linda Hepner, were left perplexed Tuesday by comments made by representatives of the provincial and federal governments about the future of the three major projects, which are estimated to total more than $4 billion in costs.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Liberal MP for North Vancouver, and Andrew Wilkinson, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, said during a news conference to announce transit service upgrades that the region’s mayors had more work to do on their 10-year, $7.5-billion transit and transportation plan before governments would commit to funding the projects.

“We’re waiting for the mayors to come forward with a detailed plan,” said Wilkinson, the Liberal MP, whose comments were echoed by Liberal MLA Wilkinson when he told reporters: “As my federal counterpart has just said, once the picture is crystalized and the plan is clear, they’ll be the usual engagement between the three levels of government to sort out the funding arrangement.”

The Wilkinsons, who are not related, attended the news conference at Waterfront station downtown on behalf of their respective ministers responsible for transit and infrastructure.

Robertson, who is chairperson of the mayors’ council on regional transportation, and Hepner, the council’s vice-chairperson, were quick to respond to the Wilkinsons’ comments about more work needing to be done on the plan. The mayors took to the microphone and said in unison: “That work is done.”

Robertson continued speaking and pointed out requests for funding of phase two of the plan were sent to the provincial and federal governments. The mayors have worked on the plan for several years with the mayors’ council and Translink’s board of directors approving phase one of the plan in November.

“I’m not sure what [Andrew Wilkinson] is alluding to here, but we need formal commitment of federal and provincial dollars to the major projects,” said Robertson, noting Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously committed to get the projects built. “We’re hoping to see those commitments in these weeks ahead as they put together their next budgets.”

The federal government already agreed to fund $370 million of the first phase of the mayors’ plan, which includes increased Skytrain and Seabus service – announced Tuesday at the news conference – and an expansion of bus and HandyDART service.

The provincial government contributed $246 million to phase one and the remaining $1.3 billion of capital and operating costs will come from Translink’s existing funding sources, including property tax and transit fare increases.

The estimated cost to build a subway along the Broadway corridor has been pegged at $1.9 billion and a rapid transit line in Surrey at $2.1 billion. A new Pattullo Bridge, which would replace the existing span from New Westminster and Surrey, is estimated to cost close to $1 billion.

Liberal MP Wilkinson said he couldn't speak to the contents of the federal government's next budget. But, he said, the mayors' plan "fits very squarely with respect to the campaign commitments" made in the Liberals' election campaign. And, he added, it fits with the Liberals' agenda to renew urban infrastructure and "pursuing initiatives that will actually improve environmental outcomes."

"So I would suggest that this is something that over the coming weeks and months, we will be able to find a way to get to some conclusion," the member of Parliament said.

Despite the funding flap between the mayors and governments, public consultations will begin this month on phase two of the mayors’ transit and transportation plan.