The $1.4-billion Evergreen Rapid Transit Line through northeastern communities of the Lower Mainland will be built on time despite a $400-million funding shortfall, Premier Gordon Campbell declared Monday.
The Premier said details on how to cover the costs of the 11-kilometre line linking Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Moody will be released soon.
Mr. Campbell made his cryptic reassurance during a luncheon speech to members of the Vancouver Board of Trade, who enthusiastically applauded the commitment to the system, which will use SkyTrain-style technology.
"Folks, just so you know, the Evergreen line is getting built. It's being built in a timely manner," Mr. Campbell said, echoing a pledge by Finance Minister Colin Hansen in last week's provincial budget speech.
"It's going to be built in partnership. We're going to get it done on behalf of all of you," Mr. Campbell said.
TransLink, the regional transit authority, has yet to declare how it can cover its $400-million share of the project, promised since the days of the New Democratic Party government in British Columbia.
"We agree with what everyone is saying about the need for the line," TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said Monday.
But he added: "We do not have the source of the funding to support that investment, that debt we would be taking on," referring to the $400-million.
"We would also, based on our current situation, have difficulty supporting the ongoing operating costs."
However, Mr. Campbell later told reporters a TransLink financing review due out in the next few weeks will clarify the issue.
"We will be able to lay out a strategy that people will have confidence in. They should have confidence today. If they need more, they will have more in the weeks ahead," the Premier said.
The Premier's office later noted that Mr. Campbell was referring to the government's pending response to the provincial comptroller-general's review of TransLink financing.
Mr. Campbell promised the Evergreen project will be "properly funded." The province is on the line for $400-million, and Ottawa is making a similar contribution.
Construction on the line was once supposed to start this year, but has been put off to 2011. The system is to begin running in 2014.
Joe Trasolini, the long-time mayor of Port Moody, said he takes Mr. Campbell at his word, but would like to see the municipalities at the table with the province and TransLink to figure out the issue.
"The northeast sector has been waiting for this project for a long time. Right now, we need somebody to show us the money. If the province has found a way to give TransLink the money, let's hope they have an answer," he said.
He said the Evergreen line is crucial for an area of the Lower Mainland expected to accept tens of thousands of new residents in decades ahead.
"There's always a concern when the goalposts keep changing," he said, referring to delays in construction and the eventual launch of the project.
Harry Bains, the NDP transportation critic, said he expects the line will be built, but is curious about when and how. "I'd like to see who will pay, and if the province will fill the gap, how are they going to come up with this money," he said.