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Metro Vancouver mayors approve 10-year transit plan

Mayors from around the region approved a 10-year transit plan Thursday that will cost $7.5 billion and include the construction of a $1.9 billion subway line along the Broadway corridor.
Broadway corridor
Mayor Gregor Robertson and mayors from around the region approved a $7.5 billion plan Thursday to improve transit services in the Lower Mainland. The plan calls for a $1.9 billion subway from the Vancouver Community College-Clark SkyTrain station to Arbutus Street to alleviate congestion along the Broadway corridor. Photo Kevin Hill

Mayors from around the region approved a 10-year transit plan Thursday that will cost $7.5 billion and include the construction of a $1.9 billion subway line along the Broadway corridor.

The plan, however, must be accepted by the provincial government and hinges on the results of a referendum to be held by June of next year to determine whether Metro Vancouver residents want to spend more money on transit services.

The plan relies on $3.9 billion from senior levels of government and funding mechanisms such as reallocating $250 million per year of the provincial government’s carbon tax, bridge tolls and possibly charging vehicle drivers for the distance they drive.

Of that $3.9 billion, an estimated $1.9 billion will be required from the region and senior levels of government to build the 5.1-kilometre subway line from the Vancouver Community College-Clark SkyTrain station to Arbutus Street. Annual operating costs are estimated at $22.3 million.

Mayor Gregor Robertson has long campaigned for a subway line along Broadway that would take transit riders past Arbutus to the University of B.C.

“The long term plan is to get to UBC with rapid transit,” Robertson told reporters after the mayors’ council on regional transportation approved the plan at Translink's offices in New Westminster. “This 10-year plan is ensuring we get to Arbutus, where the highest volume is. So I think it’s a reasonable first step.”

City staff reports have said the stretch of Broadway between Commercial and Arbutus is the busiest bus corridor in North America. Statistics also show 2,000 transit users per morning rush hour are passed up by buses, and lineups will only get worse when another 100,000 people are expected in the corridor by 2040.

Robertson acknowledged the plan to build a subway requires senior government to pay two-thirds of the $1.9 billion tab but said he is optimistic there will be buy-in from Victoria and Ottawa.

“I’m hopeful they’ll recognize the urgency and take next steps to come forward with the capital dollars,” he said. “We need better transit service around the region or we’re going to face really serious consequences.”

Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, who cast the only dissenting vote, said the plan was too ambitious and expensive and he doubted the provincial or federal governments would invest.

“I’m not confident at all,” he told the Courier. “There is very little in the way of provincial or federal funding to support this plan.”

Along with a $1.9 billion subway for Vancouver, the plan calls for Surrey to get a $2.1 billion light-rail system. Corrigan said he would have supported the plan, if the projects were excluded.

“We just had the Canada Line come through for 2010, we’re in the process of bringing in the Evergreen Line,” he said. “To push on to building brand new transit lines seems to me to be overly ambitious and probably not sustainable within our economy.”

A sub-committee of mayors drafted the plan over the past 12 weeks after Transportation Minister Todd Stone requested  municipalities devise a long-term funding strategy for the region. Property taxes and new transit fare revenue are other tools the mayors believe will help pay for a more sustainable plan.

Stone told reporters from outside the government’s cabinet offices in downtown Vancouver that using the existing carbon tax to help pay for the plan is off the table.

“That is not going to happen,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to be the minister who goes out there and tells people of the Lower Mainland that we’re going to jack up your provincial income taxes so that the mayors can use the existing carbon taxes.”

The mayors’ plan suggested if the government wasn’t interested in reallocating the carbon tax that it could simply increase the rate of the tax for Metro Vancouver residents. Stone said he is interested in talking to mayors about a separate carbon tax for Metro Vancouver as a potential revenue source.

He commended the mayors for putting together the plan in the short timeframe, saying he takes his "hat off" to them for what was "clearly an exceptional amount of hard work." He noted the government only received the plan Wednesday night and will review it over the next couple of weeks.

"We are diligently working our way through it to understand exactly what the implications are in terms of expectations of the province, largely relating to the ask around capital projects as well as new sources of funding that require action on part of the province," Stone said.

Other investments in the plan for Vancouver include new B-line buses from downtown to Southeast Marine Drive, downtown to Simon Fraser University’s main campus in Burnaby and from Joyce-Collingwood to UBC. Total capital cost is estimated at $21.9 million and an operating cost of $11.1 million.

More frequent bus, SeaBus and HandyDart service is called for, as are continued investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and road maintenance.

The timing for the subway to be built is in the six to 10-year range of the plan — the same timeframe for Surrey’s light-rail project.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said “there was no fight” among the mayors to ensure both multi-billion dollar projects were in the plan.

“They have to be on the table because the corridor in Vancouver has to be addressed and the growth south of the Fraser [river] has to be addressed, so we can’t ignore it,” said Watts, who supports region-wide tolling to help pay for costs. “Keep it at a very low price and spread it around.”

A new four-lane Pattullo Bridge for New Westminster at $980 million is the other big expense outlined in the plan and calls for tolls once it is built.

The mayors’ plan says Metro Vancouver is expected to grow by one million residents and 600,000 new jobs by 2040, which could add up to three million automobile trips per day.

“Doing nothing to prepare for this growth is simply not an option,” said North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton, chairperson of the mayors’ council on regional transportation, in his opening remarks at Thursday’s meeting.

The council is comprised of 21 mayors, Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Bryce Williams and representative Mariah Harris of Electoral Area A, which includes the UBC lands.

— With files from Chris Cheung

mhowell@vancourier.com

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