‘This Vision includes the highest priority transportation improvements. These are neither everything we want nor all that we ultimately need ….”
So begins the report from the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation Investments. The report was released on Thursday and includes a new, four-lane (expandable to six-lane) Pattullo Bridge, a subway line from VCC down the Broadway Corridor to Arbutus Street, and a new LRT line on 104 Avenue, King George Boulevard and Fraser Highway in Surrey and Langley.
The plan would also see bus and Seabus service improved to “make transit service so frequent throughout the day that a schedule is not needed.”
The cost? $7.5-billion over the next 10 years with most of the funding coming from senior levels of government. The rest would come from the Lower Mainland’s share of the carbon tax, road pricing, tolls and transit fares.
Mayors’ Council chair Richard Walton says it may sound like a lot of money, but says it’s roughly what the region has spent on transit and transportation improvements over the past 12 years.
“It pales in comparison to the $34 billion that Toronto is looking at to meet the needs of its growing population. There are a million people coming to this city between now and 2040,” Mr. Walton told me in an interview.
Mr. Walton says using the carbon tax as a source of revenue makes sense since transit improvements are directly tied to greenhouse-gas emissions and air quality.
The mayors had barely lowered their hands after voting to approve the plan when Transportation Minister Todd Stone responded. On using the carbon tax as a source of funding Mr. Stone said bluntly, “That is not going to happen.”
“There will not be a reallocation of existing carbon tax. When you get to the place of suggesting new funding sources, don’t touch provincial revenue.”
I haven’t quite been able to figure out what it is about transit in the Lower Mainland that makes Premier Christy Clark and her young, inexperienced, hinterland-dwelling minister handle the subject like toxic waste.
They like roads and bridges well enough – just look at the Port Mann and the accelerated pace of the Massey Tunnel replacement project.
In the individual mandate letter sent from Ms. Clark to Mr. Stone this week (and made public to demonstrate that she’s in charge), of the 11 tasks he must complete this year, not one of them has anything to do with transit.
Completing the four-laning of the Trans-Canada Highway from his hometown of Kamloops to the Alberta border did make the list, as did the completion of the Cariboo Connector.
But the repeated requests of Lower Mainland mayors for improvements to public transit didn’t rate.
Maybe it’s the word “public” that turns them off – like public washrooms and public schools?
Seriously, I’m at a loss. I don’t understand how someone who has such a long view when it comes to the potential benefits of B.C.’s natural gas industry can’t see the benefits of building a transportation network that would accommodate future growth. If we could squish commuters through pipelines would there be a change of heart?
Is it a general dislike of TransLink, stripped of its decision-making power and labelled “dysfunctional” by the previous transportation minister and often cast as a money-burning gravy train?
Road and bridge projects initiated by the province are “investments in B.C.’s economic future.” They decrease travel times and, according to the Premier, mean that drivers “… have a more efficient commute and will have more time to spend with their family instead of in an idling car.”
Those of you standing glumly at the suburban bus stop wondering if the bus is ever coming? The kids have already gone to bed.
Vancouver’s former chief city planner, Brent Toderian, says what’s important is that mayors have agreed on a plan. He says now the challenge is convincing the province that transit is a smart investment.
“The province still doesn’t understand that transit is not a cost, it’s an investment,” said Mr. Toderian. “If they actually treated it like an investment, which it is, we probably wouldn’t be in this problem of transit paralysis in the first place.… To a city-builder and a region-builder it’s a no-brainer.”
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 88.1 FM and 690 AM in Vancouver. @cbcstephenquinn