British Columbia's future suddenly includes $14-billion in new public-transit systems.
The province yesterday unveiled a program of construction that will send new automated SkyTrain transit into the rarefied campus of the University of British Columbia, plant a new light-rail system in the northeastern suburbs of the Lower Mainland and lead to dedicated bus lines in Vancouver, Victoria and the booming Okanagan city of Kelowna.
Premier Gordon Campbell sketched out the largest public-transit announcement in B.C. history yesterday before an audience peppered with Lower Mainland mayors who have been clamouring for various pieces of the program for years.
"You would have to go back more than 40 years to see infrastructure of this magnitude and importance," said Norman Ruff, a political scientist at the University of Victoria, referring to the big hydro projects of the 1960s.
Warren Gill, a transportation-studies professor at Simon Fraser University who has focused on transportation policy for more than 30 years, called the program "infrastructure for the ages."
"It means Vancouver will be a functional city long into the future. People who come to Vancouver will be able to get around in the city just as they would in some of the world's great cities - New York, London, Chicago," Prof. Gill said.
One key piece is promised to be ready for the 2010 Olympics: the $2-billion, 19-kilometre Canada Line from Vancouver airport into the city's downtown, which is already under construction and slated to be finished as of November, 2009.
But Mr. Campbell laid out plans for other systems to be built through to 2020 and hinted at projects to come through to 2030.
The Vancouver region already has the 49-kilometre SkyTrain system - the longest automated transit system in the world. But Mr. Campbell yesterday committed to about 30 kilometres of new SkyTrain-style and light-rapid-transit lines, plus bus systems elsewhere in the province, and $1.6-billion for 1,500 new clean-technology buses to increase the provincial fleet by about 60 per cent.
B.C. is putting up $4.75-billion, and hoping for $3.1-billion from Ottawa.
TransLink, the regional transit authority, will be on the hook for $2.75-billion, and local governments will have to contribute $500-million.
One of the most dramatic pieces of the plan is a $2.8-billion subway-style line running 12 kilometres across central Vancouver into the booming University of British Columbia by 2020.
"The UBC Line can't come soon enough," Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan told reporters, suggesting the route across bustling Broadway is now clogged with buses.
The package also includes the long-awaited Evergreen Line, which would run streetcar style from suburban Burnaby through Port Moody to Coquitlam - a project deemed a necessity by mayors in that part of the region.
Mr. Campbell said he can pay for it all without hiking taxes. He noted that the province will not use a carbon tax - rumoured to be part of next month's provincial budget - to cover the cost.
"We are covering off all these costs as we go into the future," he said. "I can't tell you how we will get all of the dollars in 2015 and 2017, but I can tell you we have the resources in place to set this plan in motion. We intend to do that."
NDP transportation critic Maurine Karagianis said her party will keep the big pieces of the program if it wins next year's provincial election, though she mused about a carbon tax or gas tax.
"I believe that most of the projects announced today are very much what the New Democrats are calling for, and so these are all very necessary expansions," she said.
The Premier and Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon were confident Ottawa would come through with its share of the money.
"The federal government has stepped up to the plate every time we have asked them on major projects," said Mr. Falcon, who added that he has raised the issue with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, the regional minister for B.C.
Mr. Day saluted the B.C. government's announcement in a statement, saying the province has federal sources for relevant funds, including $2.2-billion over seven years from the $33-billion national Building Canada Infrastructure plan. He also noted that Ottawa is putting up $450-million for the Canada Line.
"The Government of Canada is pleased to see that the Government of British Columbia has announced a transit plan for the province. Increased transit is a key priority for the Government of Canada," said the minister.
Fast and green
British Columbia's $14-billion new transit plan - the addition of three major new transit lines
and other improvements by 2030 would increase ridership by 400 million trips a year.
THE TRANSIT LINES
New $2-billion, 19-kilometre downtown Vancouver-Richmond-airport rapid transit line is nearing completion and scheduled to open
late next year.
New Evergreen Line
$1.4-billion announced to build 11-kilometre rapid transit line to connect Coquitlam Centre to Lougheed Town Centre station by 2014.
New UBC line
$2.8-billion announced to build 12-kilometre rapid transit line from Broadway Station to UBC by 2020.
Expo Line expansion
$3.1-billion announced to double capacity of existing rapid transit line by 2009, plus a six-kilometre extension in Surrey by 2020.
The Millennium Line
No improvements are planned for existing rapid transit line opened in 2002.
New rapid transit cars
$1-billion announced for new cars.
A new $1.2-billion, nine-line express bus system will be in place by 2020. Seven lines are planned for the Lower Mainland, and one line each in Victoria and Kelowna.
West Coast Express
Existing commuter-rail service links Mission with downtown Vancouver.
INCREASING TRANSIT MARKET SHARE
SOURCE: MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION