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British Columbia Piecemeal is a dubious way to go for Metro Vancouver transit

Given the rate at which Metro Vancouver's population is exploding, getting the region's transportation needs right is critical. The lack of a co-ordinated vision and strategy will inevitably lead to costly mistakes that could take years, if not decades, to undo.

And, yet, that appears to be the gridlocked road we're heading down in the wake of last week's transit plebiscite. The decision by area voters to soundly reject the $7.5-billion transit plan put together by 21 regional mayors has left an ugly void that may eventually be filled with dubious ideas.

For instance, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner is already talking about ways to fund three light rapid transit lines for her community that were part of the referendum proposal. She told The Globe and Mail this week that one of the options she's considering is taking back the city's share of gas taxes that now go to TransLink.

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If Ms. Hepner were to suddenly go rogue at the expense of Metro's regional transit authority, it could have disastrous consequences.

For starters, it could lead to a rupture of the mayors' council. While some mayors would likely side with Ms. Hepner's gambit, there would be many more resentful of her for going it alone and rejecting the more regional, holistic approach to transit planning that is necessary if the needs of the greatest number of people are to be met.

There are already several Metro mayors who have grave doubts that LRT in Surrey is even a good idea at this point. Certainly, three lines would not be in a break-even position for some time; it would take years before even one LRT track in the city would make bottom-line sense. But Surrey pushes on.

It's widely assumed that former mayor Diane Watts managed to extract some financing guarantee from the federal Tories before agreeing to run for the party in the upcoming federal election.

It's also understood that political operative Patrick Kinsella, who has connections everywhere including in the provincial government, is working on some kind of public-private partnership deal with Bombardier to build the system. There is even word making the rounds that a new casino is being considered as a source of ongoing operational funding needs.

Meantime, there are senior people in Premier Christy Clark's government also skeptical about Surrey's plan. Some, including the Premier's chief of staff, Dan Doyle, a transportation engineer, are said to believe extending SkyTrain out to Langley makes more sense at the moment than LRT in Surrey. But if push comes to shove, and political debts need to be paid, then Victoria will undoubtedly provide a one-third share of the $2.2-billion in funding necessary to see the project built.

The city of Vancouver will also likely go it alone with the subway that the plebiscite plan included. But, at least in Vancouver's case, the subway makes immediate financial sense, at least to Cambie Street. It can be justified on almost every level. Not so LRT in Surrey.

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The future of TransLink, meantime, is uncertain, too. It seems change is coming, but what it will look like no one knows for sure. Regional mayors want more power over the authority's decisions and control over its purse strings. There is no indication Victoria is going to allow this to happen. In fact, it seems the provincial government is happy to see transportation planning for the region continue to be done in the current haphazard manner.

Ideally, responsibility for the design, construction and operation of roads, bridges, buses, light rapid transit, subways and bike lanes would fall under the authority of one body. That way zero decisions would be made in isolation, creating a regional system that is integrated and more efficient.

That would be the opposite of what we have now in the Lower Mainland, which is the old-fashioned silo approach being rejected by more enlightened jurisdictions around the world. But then, it takes enlightened political leadership to make these sorts of ideas a reality.

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