Much longer delay on Evergreen Line start feared

Deal on TransLink funding needed before fall elections: mayor

Artist rendering of section of planned Evergreen Line in Coquitlam.

The long-promised Evergreen Line may remain on ice for much of this year because TransLink has so far not even begun to prepare a financial supplement to fund its share.

So says Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, who takes it as a bad sign that more delays are likely on a $1.4-billion SkyTrain extension that was supposed to be under construction by now.

The only missing piece of the puzzle is TransLink’s $400-million contribution.

Metro Vancouver mayors are in talks with the provincial government on possible new mechanisms to raise money, potentially including an annual vehicle levy or road pricing.

Trasolini said transportation minister Blair Lekstrom told mayors in a meeting this week the project will not proceed until TransLink’s share is delivered.

But he said he’s hopeful because Lekstrom recommitted to an accord signed last year by predecessor Shirley Bond and former premier Gordon Campbell pledging to negotiate new sustainable funding sources for regional transportation.

The problem, he said, is that talks are now focused on finding an over-arching solution on long-term funding to pay for a variety of TransLink capital projects, including new rapid transit lines to Surrey and UBC.

That may mean a simpler Evergreen Line-only funding solution will be parked longer, he said.

“It’s troubling to me that there is no supplemental plan specific to the Evergreen Line,” Trasolini said, referring to TransLink’s process of proposing expansion projects with tax or fee increases for the mayors’ approval.

“There’s no other plan that’s been prepared nor is there anything in the works so far as I know.”

Federal and provincial funding for the line through Port Moody to Coquitlam is in place, environmental approvals are complete and design work is done.

The transportation ministry is now selecting a contractor and the project website says construction is slated to begin in late 2011, and be finished four years later.

“I object to the northeast sector being the sacrificial lamb when everything is done,” Trasolini said. “The only thing missing is the TransLink $400-million and that is not happening.”

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said he, too, doubts TransLink will table a funding solution for the mayors to vote on anytime soon.

But he said the meeting with Lekstrom was “quite fruitful” and he remains upbeat a short-term agreement on the Evergreen Line can be reached soon, followed by a comprehensive long-term funding deal.

“I think the province wants to break this logjam,” Stewart said. “I’m fully confident we can find a solution in the course of months. Not weeks, but not years either.”

It’s critical, he said, to solve TransLink’s financial impasse before new councils are elected in each city this November.

Stewart said he also believes the provincial government will want to celebrate an agreement securing major transit upgrades for the future – not face continued discord – going into a provincial election some expect could come this fall.

He said the province is already paying its third of the Evergreen Line and Metro cities understand they can’t expect Victoria to pay their third as well.

“We have a project here that everyone agrees is our highest priority,” he said. “Let’s work with the province, identify the tools and move on.”

Lekstrom said in an interview Thursday he’s also hopeful a deal can be reached with Metro mayors soon.

“I’m an optimist here,” he said. “The public really wants the service.”

He wouldn’t discuss what funding sources he favours – many the mayors have talked about would effectively tax motorists – but he said there are only a few that could reasonably work.

A long-term answer is important, he said.

“Every time a new project comes forward, I don’t think the mayors council or anybody wants to be back in the siutation of saying ‘How do we raise the money,'” Lekstrom said.

“Let’s find a long-term solution to this and we’re committed to work with them on that.”

TransLink recently hired four academics to advise the mayors council on potential new funding sources.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said the TransLink board can’t prepare a supplement without a source of extra money the mayors and the province can support.

“Right now, one does not exist,” he said.

Besides new rapid transit lines, TransLink’s expansion wish list also includes running three SeaBuses and adding more buses, SkyTrain and West Coast Express cars.

Mayors last fall refused to approve a property tax increase TransLink tabled to cover the Evergreen Line, instead opting to pursue talks on new mechanisms.

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