After much delay, much-needed major public transit expansion is finally happening – and it is the largest expansion project in Metro Vancouver history, which includes the Millennium Line extension on Broadway in Vancouver and the new light rail transit project in Surrey.
The BC NDP provincial government has approved the necessary measures that TransLink will take to fill all of its 20% share of covering the $7-billion cost of the Mayors’ Council’s phase two transit expansion plan.
“This is the foremost announcement on infrastructure that has ever been made in British Columbia,” said Mayors’ Council chair Derek Corrigan during this afternoon’s press conference. “I can tell you that we should be very proud of the region for coming together in the way it has to find a consensus in bringing forward this plan.”
“This is a huge win for transit users and drivers… In fact, this is the largest funding investment in BC history and one of the largest across this nation.”
Measures that will allow TransLink to fulfill its share include the provincial government’s approval of:
Both revenue measures require new provincial legislation, which will be enacted later this year by the governing party.
The provincial government will also subsidize TransLink’s operational costs by $30 million annually over 10 years, so that the public transit authority can redirect existing revenues that would otherwise go to operational costs towards the new capital infrastructure. This is being performed in lieu of more new taxes.
And in a previous announcement, the provincial government absorbed the Pattullo Bridge replacement into its responsibilities, taking away the $1.4 billion project off TransLink’s hands so that it can focus on transit expansion.
“Closing the entire gap, the region identified with the tools currently available to the mayors would have been a challenge for the region… there will be no more delays, and the region can finally put the shovels in the ground for important phase two projects,” said Selina Robinson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and responsible for TransLink.
She also took aim at the previous BC Liberal government’s stalling and hesitation with transit investments in Metro Vancouver, which included the failed transit plebiscite and former Premier Christy Clark’s continued requirement of a public vote for any new revenue source for TransLink.
“For years, commuters like me, we’ve stood on the sidelines and watched helplessly while the old government just turned their backs on the region. They couldn’t make anything happen,” said Robinson.
“During that time, congestion got worse, and it robs people of time with their loved ones, of time with the things they want to do. And the region was left in the dark wondering if important transit projects would ever get off the ground. Well, I’m really proud to say that is not the case anymore. Today is a new day, and I’m extremely proud.”
Other revenue TransLink will need to fill the shortfall comes from sources that do not require provincial approval, such as:
“The Mayors’ Council has approved a balanced approach to increasing taxes and fees paid by transit users, drivers, property owners, and developers,” said Corrigan. “It is a modest and balanced increase that will generate the region’s remaining share of the funding needed to deliver the phase two plan.”
These measures will add to the funding commitments already approved last year by the provincial and federal governments, which will each take on a 40% share – the remaining 80%. Commitments from both senior governments total about $5.6 billion.
For years, funding challenges were the only obstacle to advancing these projects to the next stages of planning and eventually construction.
“This really does represent a major milestone in years and years of planning to get these transit projects moving – to support the region’s needs going forward,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond. “This investment sets in motion a whole suite of improvements that will benefit all of our riders and residents.”
The phase two plan includes the major transit projects of the six-km-long underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line under Broadway from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street and the construction of the new 27-km-long, ground-level light rail transit (LRT) network in Surrey. There is no updated figure on the construction costs of both projects at this time as the provincial government is still reviewing the business cases.
With RFPs issued out to potential private contractors later this year, construction on both projects could begin in 2019 for a 2024 completion of the 11-km-long first phase Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line and a 2025 completion of the Broadway subway.
A future yet-to-be-determined, unfunded extension of the subway beyond the 10-year-plan will extend the Millennium Line from Arbutus Street to the ultimate terminus at the University of British Columbia campus.
The current Mayors’ Council plan will also significantly expand bus service levels and improvements to some roadways, sidewalks, and cycling pathways.
Desmond says the implementation of four new B-Lines and upticks on other bus routes outlined in the phase one plan will increase overall bus service by 18% between 2016 and 2021. And within the phase two plan, there will be a 25% increase in bus service.
The SkyTrain system is also seeing a major capacity increase, with 56 new Mark III cars for the Expo and Millennium lines and 24 new Hyundai Rotem cars for the Canada Line by 2020. An additional 44 cars will arrive for the Expo and Millennium lines between 2022 and 2024.
And a new SeaBus arriving in 2019 will allow the ferry service to operate every 10 minutes during peak hours.
The next steps for the phase two transit expansion is a public consultation phase from April to May, followed by the Mayors’ Council’s approval of the tweaked plan in June.