What the historic federal transit funding program could mean for TransLink projects

Feb 10 2021, 8:39 pm

An unprecedented level of federal funding for new public transit infrastructure projects is coming to Canadian cities, and TransLink in Metro Vancouver is expected to be a major recipient of this new program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today a new Permanent Transit Fund (PTF) of $3 billion annually to fund new public transit projects will begin in 2026. This fulfills a campaign promise made by Trudeau in the last federal election.

There will also be an additional $5.9 billion in funding as a bridge until the PTF begins, with this one-time fund accessible starting this year. This will particularly benefit shovel-ready projects as a means of a COVID-19 economic stimulus.

But it remains to be seen how the federal government will distribute the $3 billion each year across the country. These details have yet to be released.

For years, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council, transit authorities across the country, and Federation of Canadian Municipalities have been calling on the federal government to initiate a PTF of $3 billion annually.

If it were distributed based on ridership, as proposed by the Mayors’ Council, TransLink would stand to receive about $350 million annually. Such an allocation would be more funding than what was provided in 2016 when Trudeau announced the then-historic $20-billion federal transit fund over 10 years, which helped propel TransLink’s Phase One and Phase Two transit expansions.

The PTF was previously proposed to begin in 2028, when the existing federal public transit fund that first began in 2016 expires.

Last fall, the Mayors’ Council submitted a formal request to the federal government to expedite the launch of the PTF to support COVID-19 recovery, shovel-ready projects, and match funding commitments made by the lower levels of government.

This includes additional $1.6 billion needed to build the remainder of the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension between Fleetwood and Langley Centre — a completion of the entire $3.1 billion, 16-km-long, eight-station project in a single stage from King George Station.

During last year’s election campaign, the BC NDP promised to prioritize the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension of the Expo Line as a single phase, and assume control of the project under the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to expedite its delivery. At the time, Premier John Horgan said the provincial government would need the federal government to come in as a funding partner.

Another $450 million would be for the Low Carbon Fleet Strategy of transitioning to electric-battery buses starting in 2023, $965 million for refurbishment and upgrades to the transit fleet and systems, $550 million for SkyTrain station and bus loop upgrades, and $75 million for project planning and studies to support the Transport 2050 process of creating the region’s new 30-year transportation plan.

TransLink is also proposing to build the Burnaby Mountain gondola public transit line reaching Simon Fraser University. This project will cost approximately $200 million, but it is unfunded.

With the interim and PTF funding, TransLink could be in a position to secure these projects, especially the timely delivery of the complete Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension, the electric-battery bus fleet and associated infrastructure, and the gondola.

Now and over the longer run, the PTF will be key for providing TransLink with predictable transit funding for its expansion and improvement plans, and provides a framework for delivering and finalizing Phase Three projects, including the SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line from the future Arbutus Station to the University of British Columbia, rapid transit along the Newton-Guildford corridor in Surrey, and additional RapidBus routes.

After last year’s delays due to COVID-19, the public transit authority is expected to update its investment plan this year, and finalize its Transport 2050 plan.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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