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B.C. mayors move ahead with first phase of 10-year transit plan

Traffic crosses the Pattullo Bridge, which was among the projects on the Mayors' Council plan, in New Westminster, B.C.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The Lower Mainland Mayors' Council has approved the first phase of its 10-year transportation plan – and with a provincial election and federal budget on the horizon, the mayors are now quickly shifting focus to the higher-profile Phase Two.

The first phase, which will yield $2-billion in transit and road improvements, was given the go-ahead at a meeting Wednesday. The enhancements will begin in January and ultimately provide a 10-per-cent increase in bus service, a 15-per-cent increase in HandyDART service, and a 20-per-cent increase in rail service, among other things.

The second phase of the plan, the cost of which has not been determined, calls for the construction of three major projects: the Broadway subway in Vancouver, light rail in Surrey and a new Pattullo Bridge. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is chair of the council, said after the vote on the first phase that there is still a great deal of work to do. He said the projects in the second phase of the plan are "desperately" needed.

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"This is a big first step for the 10-year plan. We have a lot of work ahead of us, though. In the next couple of months, we need to see a commitment from the provincial and federal governments to the big piece of the plan, the Phase Two," he said.

Mr. Robertson said he would like to see a pledge from the B.C. government before May's provincial election. He said he would like the same from Ottawa ahead of its next budget, consultations for which are currently under way.

"The mayor's expectation is that we will get a commitment from the B.C. government this winter, prior to their election, on Phase Two funding. If we don't see that commitment, obviously it becomes an election issue," he said.

Peter Fassbender, the B.C. government's minister responsible for TransLink, said in a statement he was pleased with the mayors' votes. However, Mr. Fassbender provided little detail on how the province would approach the second phase of the plan.

"Looking ahead, our government remains committed to working with all of our partners on Phase Two and we look forward to further details from the federal government on its long-term funding plan for transit," he wrote.

The B.C. government contributed $246-million to Phase One, while the federal government kicked in $370-million. TransLink will pay the remaining $1.3-billion in a variety of ways, including annual fare increases of five to 10 cents for a single ride, and $1 to $3 for monthly passes. Homeowners will also see an average property-tax increase of $3 per year.

In addition to the transit improvements, the first phase of the plan will provide upgrades to major roads, as well as the expansion of cycling and walking routes. Rail lines, HandyDART and the SeaBus will see expanded service starting in January, while bus service will increase as of April.

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Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who is vice-chair of the mayors' council, said transportation investments have not kept up with population growth, but the 10-year plan will go a long way in addressing overcrowding on transit and congestion on the road.

The mayors' council unanimously approved Phase One at Wednesday's meeting, though Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan – who has been critical of the plan – did not attend.

West Vancouver Mayor Mike Smith voted in favour of the first phase, but said he did so "with reservations."

Mr. Smith said the average West Vancouver homeowner pays about $825 in property tax directly to TransLink, which is well above the regional average due to the community's high home-assessment rates.

"It's pretty hard to sell to our residents that this is something that is in the best interest of West Vancouver," he said. "…But I had to put my regional hat on. I realized we have got to get this federal and provincial money and get started with a transit plan."

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