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British Columbia Metro Vancouver politicians divided in support of different regional transit plans

A SkyTrain commuter train travels out of Downtown on a guideway alongside the Dunsmuir Viaduct, in Vancouver, on March 22, 2017.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Metro Vancouver politicians have maintained a united front on regional transit plans for the past five years.

But the civic election campaign is cracking open differences in support for different future lines, which could result in significant changes when a new crop of politicians is installed in November.

In Vancouver, the main candidates are split on their enthusiasm for extending the Broadway subway line from the planned first phase that stops partway across the city’s west side at Arbutus, before the University of British Columbia.

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In Surrey, the party that broke away from the ruling Surrey First is now saying the $1.65-billion light-rapid-transit line, whose construction is about to start after five years of studies, should be paused until more study is done.

And, in North Vancouver, some politicians are saying they will fight to have SkyTrain extended across Burrard Inlet, while others say improved bus service is the more immediate solution.

All of that could come into play as city councils decide on the region’s next 10-year transit plan during their terms.

Vancouver independent candidate Shauna Sylvester insisted there’s money and support to extend the Broadway subway line, now scheduled to end at Arbutus, to UBC right away.

“I know the Musqueam and UBC are willing to contribute resources,” Ms. Sylvester said. The original regional transit plan envisioned running the line all the way to the university, she said, but that got curtailed because Vancouver politicians didn’t push hard enough for it.

“What happened? Vancouver dropped the ball on leadership.”

She claimed the federal government is waiting to spend more infrastructure money in advance of the next national election and Vancouver will be in a prime position to get that, if it pushes aggressively for the extension.

But Ken Sim, the Non-Partisan Association’s mayoral candidate, and Green Party councillor candidate Pete Fry are far less gung-ho about extending the subway.

Although neither will say they oppose the subway flat out, both talk about the need for more study and more discussion with other partners to determine whether it is really needed.

“What we’re waiting for is for TransLink and UBC to tell us what their plans are,” Mr. Sim said. “It would be reckless to say let’s build a line, if all the partners are not there.”

He cited TransLink statistics that two-thirds of the riders on the existing B-line on Broadway get off by Arbutus. Mr. Sim’s teammate, Colleen Hardwick, has also said at all-candidates’ meetings that the subway is like an oil pipeline that the city doesn’t need.

Mr. Fry sounds the same kind of cautionary note. “The idea of a subway sounds great but we need to balance the needs of the entire city,” he said. “It is a lot of money.”

Green Party councillor Adriane Carr has frequently expressed concerns about the cost of a subway line and the possibility that it will lead to massive increases in density along Broadway. The party has typically supported an expanded bus system or streetcar lines instead.

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In between those views are candidates who support the extension in the next phase of the region’s transit plan, without holding out hopes that it can happen quite as quickly as Ms. Sylvester says.

Independent Kennedy Stewart, Coalition Vancouver’s Wai Young, Yes Vancouver’s Hector Bremner and Vision Vancouver’s Tanya Paz all say a subway extension is needed for the future city.

And that will mean change.

“You can’t really preserve your neighbourhood and live in $10-million homes and expect workers to come in from Mission,” Mr. Stewart said.

The important thing, he said, is to leverage the increases in property values that will happen along the line and use that to provide affordable housing on the west side near transit.

Mr. Bremner said he would push to get a commitment from other levels of government for money as soon as possible, so that construction on the extension could happen fairly quickly after the line to Arbutus was finished.

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And Ms. Young said the line is needed because the university is going to keep growing. “We need to build for the future.”

In the meantime, it’s now unclear what will happen with the streetcar-type lines planned in Surrey, which have already received funding.

Integrity Now candidate Bruce Hayne said the public hasn’t been consulted enough about whether they support the LRT technology.

Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill said it’s too late to change now and delaying will only result in Surrey losing hundreds of millions in federal money.

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