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British Columbia Sorry, but there’s more urgent priorities than a high-speed train to Seattle

The latest study looking into the feasibility of an ultra high-speed train system linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland is what you might expect: full of wide-eyed promise and optimism.

It would create $355-billion in economic growth, exclaimed Bruce Ralston, British Columbia’s Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology. Not to mention 200,000 new jobs, he said. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was equally enthused.

“Vancouver to Seattle in less than an hour? To Portland in less than two … let’s make this happen,” Mr. Stewart exhorted on Twitter.

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There was little information detailing the basis for these fantastic projections. Nor were any of the politicians so excited about the project’s potential talking much about the possible price tag – forecast two years ago to be anywhere from US$24-billion to US$42-billion. That higher-end number translates here to just about $55-billion, which, if it were to be divided equally among the three participating jurisdictions – B.C., Washington State and Oregon – works out to be about $18-billion each.

Now, if anyone should be rooting for this undertaking it’s me. Seattle is like a second home. I go down there probably 10 times a year for football and baseball games. Portland, meantime, is the hipster capital of America, with all the great craft beer and amazing Northwest cuisine that goes with it. This high-speed service would help create a so-called “Cascadia mega-region” that would assist in establishing the “technology corridor” that has been talked about for years now.

That said, this project can’t be a priority for British Columbia – there are simply too many other transportation needs in Metro Vancouver that deserve attention. It would be like buying a Ferrari, while the roof of your house is falling apart and there are cracks in your home’s foundation. It would not be the responsible thing to do.

We all know about the congestion nightmare that exists at the Massey Tunnel, which is in desperate need of replacing. The NDP cancelled a bridge project planned by the previous Liberal government and has yet to come up with a viable alternative. Twinning the existing tunnel is now being explored as one option. But that is not likely to greatly enhance travel times from places such as South Delta and White Rock into downtown Vancouver. It will still take longer to get there using transit than it would to get from Vancouver to Seattle on this proposed high-speed train.

Travelling from the North Shore into Vancouver is equally vexed. And maybe before we sink billions into a high-speed rail service linking Vancouver to U.S. cities we might want to look at one that goes from Vancouver out to the Fraser Valley, to places such as Abbotsford and maybe even Chilliwack. I know that’s not as sexy sounding as Vancouver-Seattle-Portland, but it would be much more practical and reward more people who actually pay taxes here. One idea that should be explored is the possibility of reviving the old interurban rail line that once connected communities in Metro Vancouver.

It’s easy for Mr. Stewart to be all-in on the Vancouver-U.S. line. He’s got his shiny new subway coming. He’s been taken care of. And he’d no doubt love a Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high-speed line as a cool showstopper. Even if that comes at the expense of the transit needs of others living in Metro Vancouver.

In Ontario, the deposed Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne had launched plans to create a high-speed rail service for Southwestern Ontario – one linking Toronto with London and eventually Windsor. That made tremendous sense. Which is why the government of Doug Ford has killed the idea, for now at least. But the Liberals understood that it’s more sensible to make life better for those living in the province before building transit options that link to exotic, far-flung destinations such as Montreal.

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The B.C. NDP government has already sunk $600,000 into the exploratory analysis for the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland line. And the latest study recommends additional work along these lines, which would entail more of a financial commitment from B.C. I think the New Democrats should end this idea now.

The BC Liberals will have a field day with this come the next election should it still be something the government is still exploring. In fact, the Opposition is already loudly protesting the idea and rightly questioning Premier John Horgan’s priorities. It hardly makes sense to continue throwing money at this concept when you don’t have the cash to solve the transportation issues that exist in your own backyard.

I’d love nothing more to jump on a high-speed train to Seattle. But I’d much rather grab one that helped me get to work quicker.

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