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ELECTION 2017: Parties promise to tackle Metro Vancouver transit woes

All three B.C. provincial parties have pledged to fund the region’s transit
The mayors’ council wants a B.C. government that will tackle Metro Vancouver’s transportation. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

Eighth in a series of Black Press B.C. election coverage leading up to May 9

BCElection2017_logoBMetro Vancouver is hoping that the May 9 provincial election will pull the region – and its commuters – out of the gridlock it’s been in for years.

The mayors’ council and the incumbent B.C. Liberal Party have clashed repeatedly over how to fund Metro Vancouver transportation – a sector that both levels of government agree needs an upgrade.

READ: SkyTrain, SeaBus service improves with first big TransLink upgrade in a decade

Much of the back-and-forth has been over how to pay for the mayors’ 10-year plan.

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“The longer we wait to implement it the more the costs are going to come up,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote. “It’s [a] three-per-cent cost inflation every year on a billion dollar plan. That’s the cost of delaying.”

The BC Liberals have pledged to match Ottawa’s $2.2-billion commitment to Metro Vancouver transit. Part of that cash is meant to fund two rail corridors: the Broadway Millennium SkyTrain expansion in Vancouver and Surrey light rail.

Both projects are part of the mayors’ council’s 10-year plan for transportation in the region and it’s one place where the mayors and the Liberals don’t clash.

The same can’t be said for the Massey Tunnel replacement. Protests interrupted the groundbreaking for the project earlier this month. Of the Metro mayors, only Delta Mayor Lois Jackson has spoken up in support.

READ: Massey Tunnel unsafe for crash responders

“The corridor between Delta and Richmond needs to be looked at no doubt,” said Cote. “The big concern from mayors is that the billion dollar project seemed to jump the queue and get to the top of the list.”

The contention over the Massey has become a rallying point for the NDP and the Green Party.

READ: New Massey Bridge gets environment assessment approval

NDP leader John Horgan has said he would be ready to stop work on the Massey Bridge, citing the lack of support from the region’s leaders. The Greens have committed to “suspend[ing] work on the Massey Tunnel replacement pending a comprehensive and transparent review of alternatives.”

Besides the Massey replacement, the Green Party has remained largely quiet on Metro Vancouver transit but they have pledged to match federal funding for the 10-year vision. They’ve also proposed tolling gas or diesel vehicles or implementing a carbon-pricing scheme.

For their part, the NDP have promised to fund 40 per cent of the capital costs of every phase of the mayors’ vision. Both they and the Greens also vowed to get rid of the referendum requirement for any new TransLink revenue sources imposed by the Liberals. In 2015, Metro Vancouver voters said no to a 0.5-per-cent tax increase to fund TransLink.

Cote believes that requiring a referendum slows down progress on transit in the region.

READ: John Horgan promises no bridge tolls and better jobs at NDP campaign kickoff

“I think we have a really excellent opportunity to leverage the billions of federal dollars for transit,” he said.

Currently, the Massey Bridge is set to be a toll bridge – as is the upcoming Pattullo Bridge replacement. Speaking earlier this year, then-transportation minister and current Liberal MLA Todd Stone said that the province would need to review its tolling policy if the Alex Fraser became the only free crossing of the Fraser River.

Cote is insistent that the tolling system needs a rework.

“The Patullo Bridge is up 20,000 vehicles a day since they put the toll on the Port Mann Bridge,” he said. “We’re hoping to launch an independent commission on mobility pricing. What are the different options available?”

Despite the focus on the big projects like the Massey, tolls and light rail, Cote is looking for a governing party that can work holistically on transit issues.

“It’s important to recognize that [the] transport plan is more than just those projects,” he said. “It involves bus services, SkyTrain upgrades and HandyDart, too.”

READ: HandyDart service cranks up as transit expansion continues