The region’s mayors have no interest in overhauling a $7.5-billion transit plan they approved earlier this month, despite Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s criticisms of the 10-year vision.
That’s the message from the head of the mayors’ council on regional transportation after hearing Stone’s suggestions Tuesday that the plan overshot costs and is more workable over 20 years.
“It’s highly unlikely we’re going to come back and amend the plan because at this point we really don’t have the confidence that if we do it’s not going to come back again with other requests and criticisms,” said North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton, who doubles as the chairperson of the mayors’ council. “So this is the plan.”
Walton noted the mayors took 12 “exhausting” weeks to finalize the plan and it was based on what the region needs. The plan includes a $1.9-billion subway for the Broadway corridor, a $2.1-billion light rail system for Surrey and a $980-million replacement of the Pattullo Bridge in New Westminster.
The plan relies on $3.9 billion from senior levels of government and reallocating $250 million per year of the provincial government’s carbon tax, bridge tolls, property tax, new transit fare revenues and mobility pricing.
In a press conference Tuesday, Stone reiterated his opposition to the mayors’ request to reallocate the government’s carbon tax to help fund the plan and pointed out the expected funding commitment of $1.5 billion from the federal government would fall short over a 10-year period.
Stone said the mayors must understand the portion of Ottawa’s Building Canada Fund is $1 billion for the entire province of B.C. And that money, he said, is needed for significant infrastructure upgrades throughout the province, not just Metro Vancouver.
“The funding assumptions don’t add up and call into question whether or not the plan is realistic,” Stone told reporters from the provincial government’s cabinet offices at Canada Place. “That could be changed by changing the investment period from the current 10 years to perhaps 20 years.”
Walton said municipalities have always believed the carbon tax should be used to fund transit improvements. As for counting on senior levels of government to buy in to the plan, Walton said, “we weren’t asked to come up with a plan that fits in neatly with the provincial and federal governments existing commitments to capital [projects] over the next 10 years. They can change their capital plans and those plans are changed by governments session to session, anyway.”
Stone questioned the plan’s call for mobility pricing, where drivers could be charged for the distance they drive. He said more detail is needed to determine “exactly what they mean by this” and timing of its implementation.Though he didn’t specify which projects, Stone also suggested the mayors’ priorities might have to change.
The provincial government is on record of considering funding one-third of major new rapid transit projects, including a new Pattullo Bridge in New Westminster. The ruling Liberal government has also committed to lobby the federal government for matching funding.
While Stone is opposed to using the carbon tax to fund the plan, he said he is interested in a new carbon tax for Metro Vancouver residents. That alternative still has to be discussed with the mayors’ council.
The minister reminded reporters that any new funding sources will have to be approved in a referendum. He is leaving the date and question up to the mayors and given them until July 15 to decide when the referendum should be held.
Walton said he believes the deadline is to let the provincial government know whether the mayors want to tie a referendum to the municipal elections in November.
The mayors are on record of opposing the referendum and Walton said if one were to go ahead, it wouldn’t likely be until next year, possibly March. Walton, Mayor Gregor Robertson and other mayors have pointed out no referendum was required to build a new Port Mann Bridge and widen the TransCanada Highway, or rebuild the Sea to Sky Highway.
Robertson’s interest in the plan is to ensure a 5.1 kilometre subway line from Vancouver Community College-Clark SkyTrain station to Arbutus Street is built. Annual operating costs are estimated at $22.3 million.
The mayors’ council is scheduled to meet Thursday.