The BC NDP provincial government will be keeping its word with funding the next major round of public transit improvements in Metro Vancouver.
Although details in today’s budget are somewhat vague, the provincial government has set aside $1.179 billion for public transit infrastructure investments for the three-year period between 2018 and 2021, with $318 million in 2018-19, $474 million in 2019-20, and $387 million in 2020-21.
There are no specific allocations to projects such as the underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line to Arbutus and Surrey’s light rail transit (LRT) system because the provincial government and TransLink’s Mayors’ Council are still in talks on the funding arrangements for the Phase Two transit plan.
“The Province is committed to supporting the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council vision for improved transit and transportation across the region. As part of this effort, the Province has committed to funding 40% of the costs of the plan,” reads the budget.
The stated $1.1.79 billion amounts to about half of the provincial government’s $2.2-billion election-time promise. The second half will likely arrive in future budget cycles between 2021 and 2025 – aligning with the completion schedules of the projects – as such funding commitments are usually scheduled instalments during the construction process instead of provided as lump sum.
In a tweet earlier today following the release of the budget, the Mayors’ Council described this initial budget commitment for transit as a “down payment” and “paves the way to reach a long-term funding agreement soon with the province on the remaining funding required.”
This also aligns with the provincial government’s budget note on funding transit: “The Province will also continue to work with TransLink and local governments in Metro Vancouver to secure appropriate levels of density, rental supply, and affordability along new transit corridors. This will allow residents to live, work, and play in complete communities, and reduce transportation costs for families.”
Negotiations between the provincial government and TransLink deal with the public transit authority’s projected annual capital shortfall of between $60 million and $70 million over the 10-year timeline to fund Phase Two.
To fill this shortfall, TransLink is depending on the provincial government to enact new legislation to create new revenue streams, such as a hike to the gas tax, new vehicle levy, and a tax on all new developments.
The Mayors’ Council hopes to reach an agreement by no later than next month to ensure the projects stay within their budgets and timelines.
The only TransLink-planned project noted in the budget was the Pattullo Bridge, which received its formal announcement last Friday. Premier John Horgan said the provincial government will take over the project from TransLink and fund the $1.377-billion construction.
TransLink had previously planned on funding the new Pattullo Bridge with tolls, but this was removed as an option by the new provincial government. With funding now confirmed, the new bridge is scheduled to open in 2023.
While there is budgeted funding for transit and the Pattullo Bridge replacement, all allocated funding for the George Massey Tunnel replacement – a new $3.5-billion, 10-lane bridge – has been eliminated from the three-year fiscal plan. Last September, the new provincial government halted the bridge construction process and sent the project to an independent review.
The previous provincial government led by the BC Liberals had planned on selecting a builder for the George Massey project by the end of summer 2017. Major construction would have started last fall for a completion in 2022.