The funding shortfall of Metro Vancouver’s multi-billion dollar Phase Two transportation expansion plan remains as the main obstacle to getting the projects underway.
The Mayors’ Council convened for a meeting Wednesday to discuss TransLink’s shortfall to fund its share of the construction costs for projects that include the underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line to Arbutus, Surrey light rail transit, the Pattullo Bridge replacement, and bus expansion.
For TransLink, these projects will cost $200 million annually over the next 10 years, with a shortfall of between $60 million and $70 million per year. This represents a 15% shortfall of the overall costs of Phase Two.
The provincial and federal governments have previously announced separate commitments to cover 40% of the costs, which translates to $2.2 billion from each senior government.
However, in order for TransLink to fill its 15% gap, new legislation from the provincial government needs to be introduced to allow the transit authority to create new revenue streams, such as a hike to the gas tax, new vehicle levy, and a tax on all new developments.
Tolls are no longer an option after being abolished by the BC NDP last year, and although the Independent Commission on Mobility Pricing will recommend an option on mobility pricing later this year, the full implementation of mobility pricing is likely many years away given the planning, consultation, and new infrastructure required.
“I truly think there is an honest desire in the provincial government to find a solution and we’re going to try to find those solutions in a very tight timescale,” said Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, who is the new chair of the Mayors’ Council.
“This is about three governments working together to try to make massive projects come home that serve every economic, social and environmental interest in this region.”
In addition to the new revenue sources, TransLink will also need to raise property taxes and fares to cover the shortfall fully.
The Mayors’ Council is aiming to reach an agreement with the provincial government on TransLink’s funding gap by no later than next month. If this happens as scheduled, it will lead to the approval of the draft investment plan in April and public consultation throughout the spring months. Final approval will occur in the early-summer.
But the Mayors’ Council is also considering several worst-case scenarios if an agreement is not reached.
Failure could result in the reduction in scope of Phase Two, stretch out of the 10-year plan beyond a decade, or a delay of the entire plan until 2019 or later.
However, delays will only lead to higher costs due to escalating prices for labour, materials, and property acquisitions. According to staff, it is estimated that the plan’s total cost will climb by $10 million per month of delay.
Construction costs for the Surrey Newton-Guildford light rail line and Broadway extension have likely risen, largely from the multi-year delays triggered by the failed transit referendum.
If all goes as planned, construction on all three mega projects could begin next year for a completion of the Pattullo Bridge in 2023, the Surrey Newton-Guildford light rail line in 2024, and the Broadway extension in 2025.
The provincial government is scheduled to make an announcement on the Pattullo Bridge on Friday morning, and further announcements on transit funding could come early next week during the provincial budget reveal.