The wheels are now set in motion for the next concrete steps to move forward with the ambitious $7.3-billion transit expansion plan in Metro Vancouver.
Earlier today, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council approved the Phase Two, 10-year plan that includes major infrastructural projects such as the underground Broadway extension of the Millennium Line in Vancouver and the new Newton-Guildford, street-level light rail line in Surrey.
The vote also provided final approval to the revenue-raising schemes required to cover TransLink’s share of the multi-billion dollar investment plan. Measures include incremental transit fare increases, parking rights tax increase, property tax increase, development cost charge on all new property developments in the region, and a new 1.5 cent hike to the fuel tax, which was not previously announced.
Some of these measures require provincial legislation, and the provincial government has already stated it will support the new schemes, with legislation expected to be approved later this year.
There was little doubt that the Mayors’ Council would not approve its own plan, especially with the confirmed senior government commitments that significantly reduce the regional burden of the costs. This includes $2 billion from the federal government and $2.5 billion from the provincial government.
However, some of the region’s mayors voted in favour of the project with reluctance over the new taxes, particularly the hike to the fuel tax, and perceived unequal benefits. The opposition was most pronounced from the suburban communities that see less benefits from the transit plan.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who is the new Chair of the Mayors’ Council and voted against previous mid-stream decisions on the transit expansion plans, provided his approval to Phase Two.
“If you’re a good team player, once a decision has been made by your team then you try to help your team to try to make it successful,” said Corrigan during the meeting. “This is not the perfect solution and I don’t think any of us is applauding a 1.5 cent increase in the gas tax, but the time constraints are significant for us to be able to get on with this plan and get on working and get the monies committed to the plan.”
“This is an ambitious and forward-looking plan… but the problem is by not choosing to move forward with the plan and the money that comes in, we’d be delaying all of these projects. We’d be paralyzing the opportunity to move forward over the $30 million that would come from the gas tax. It is time to move this plan forward and it may not be perfect but let’s keep on working on ways to make it perfect.”
The vote was carried out by weighted voting, which assigns one vote to a municipal jurisdiction for every 20,000 of the municipal population.
A few mayors and leaders had irreconcilable differences; the following five municipal mayors and leaders voted against the plan:
Other elements of Phase Two besides the two new rail transit projects include renovations to Expo Line and Millennium Line infrastructure, 108 new train cars for the Expo and Millennium system, two new B-Lines beyond 2019, and road improvements.
With the Mayors’ Council approval of Phase Two, TransLink staff can now commence the procurement process for contractors to design and build the Broadway Extension and Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT. Construction on both projects is scheduled to begin in 2019 for a mid-2020s opening.