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British Columbia Pressure is on to decide between Vancouver’s or Surrey’s transit plans

A SkyTrain commuter train travels into downtown Vancouver on April 11, 2012.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

The region's mayors are going to have to make the tough decision by June on whether Surrey or Vancouver's multibillion-dollar transit projects will go first in what promises to be a messy four months of preparation for a June, 2015, referendum.

The chair of the TransLink mayors' council, Richard Walton, acknowledged Friday that coming up with a transit vision for the region – something the province has demanded the mayors do to put a clear question to the public – will mean something of a cage match between the region's two largest cities.

For the past two years, both cities have been putting forward strong business cases for the lines they want.

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In Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson has argued that a $3-billion extension to the Millennium Line along Broadway out to the University of British Columbia is vital to enhancing tech development, research jobs and business expansion along the line.

In Surrey, Mayor Dianne Watts has been pushing for three light-rail lines, with an estimated cost of $2-billion, to connect Surrey's expanding city centre to Guildford, White Rock and Cloverdale. Her argument is that people in Surrey are starving for transit and that's where the people and jobs in the region are going.

Until now, they've been waiting for the board and managers at TransLink to make a decision on which project would go first. Now, that decision will be up to the mayors because the province has given them more power in preparation for a referendum.

That's not the only difficult decision ahead. Mr. Walton also confirmed that Transportation Minister Todd Stone, who met with the region's mayors for nearly two hours Friday, has made it clear the province won't go along with a new funding plan for transit that would involve any regional system of tolls or road fees that includes the province's roads and bridges.

"That has really closed the door in the near future to mobility pricing," said a clearly disappointed Mr. Walton, who said that kind of pricing is the way modern urban regions are going as a way to shape traffic flows.

But the province's refusal to participate in something like that, along with a short timeline for planning such a complex shift in funding, means that option is likely out, Mr. Walton said.

As well, the province has not said when it will tell the mayors what funding options it is prepared to support, which again makes coming up with a transit plan or a funding plan difficult, he said.

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The mayors are supposed to come up with clear set of priorities by June 10, Mr. Stone has told them, in order to hold a referendum any time up until the end of June the following year.

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