None of us have any idea of when the NDP will form a minority government in Victoria, but the agreement signed last week by NDP leader John Horgan and Green leader Andrew Weaver indicates it will happen.
That means some significant changes in the transportation realm, one of the hot button issues that attracted votes for both parties in Surrey and Delta. The NDP was the prime beneficiary, going from three seats in Surrey to seven NDP MLAs representing Surrey and Delta in the provincial legislature. This compares to four BC Liberals.
The agreement signed by Horgan and Weaver basically endorses the Mayors’ Council position on transportation, which calls for substantial spending on new rapid transit lines, more buses and replacement of the Pattullo Bridge. Given that TransLink has very limited ability to raise capital for these projects, the mayors also want access to more funding from the province.
They have long called for a share of carbon tax revenues, and the NDP-Green agreement calls for the carbon tax to rise annually. This could mean substantial funds for transportation, should the government agree to that request.
Federal funds have already assured that the first phase of the Surrey LRT project between Newton and Guildford has the green light. If the province moves quickly to find additional funds for TransLink, it could mean that the second Surrey rapid transit line down Fraser Highway will be built sooner than is now projected. Whether it will be SkyTrain or LRT remains undecided.
The Green Party opposed the BC Liberal and NDP plans to respectively reduce or eliminate bridge tolls. However, Horgan said after the agreement was signed that tolls will be eliminated in the first NDP budget. The Greens will likely speak up against that provision. However, the three Green MLAs have pledged to support the budget, so the government will not fall on that issue.
The elimination of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be very welcome news for South Fraser residents who use either of the two bridges regularly, or go out of their way to avoid them. It will bring back more normal traffic flows, which will hopefully ease some of the pressure on the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges, and it will leave more money in the pockets of people who could really use it.
The new tolling policy raises some interesting questions about the new Pattullo Bridge. It is supposed to be a toll bridge, as the owner TransLink has no ability to pay for it otherwise (as was the case with the Golden Ears). Will the province assume the existing capital obligations on the Golden Ears and future capital obligations for the new Pattullo? Will it take over the two bridges? Or will road pricing and additional revenue sources, perhaps from the carbon tax, pay for the costs of the bridges?
One planned major transportation improvement likely will not go ahead, at least in the near future. It is quite likely that work will be stopped on the planned Deas Island bridge, which was to replace the Massey Tunnel. Virtually every mayor in the region, with the notable exception of Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, has opposed the planned new toll bridge, saying it is unnecessary and out of line with regional growth and transportation plans.
The NDP government will quite likely pull the plug on that project, and the Greens will concur wholeheartedly. While work has started, thus far it is of a very preliminary nature. Putting a halt to the project likely won’t cost taxpayers very much at this stage.
Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for Black Press, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.