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TransLink Mayor's Council proposes $7.5-billion transit plan 0

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Voters will get to have their say on how to pay for a newly unveiled $7.5-billion transit plan that would carry the region through the next decade in an upcoming transit referendum.

The Mayors' Council transit plan aims to give Surrey two light rail lines, a Vancouver subway along Broadway that would take commuters as far west as Arbutus, and the Pattullo Bridge bridge will be replaced with a four-lane, tolled option that could be later expanded to six lanes.

Meanwhile, the SeaBus, the West Coast Express, HandyDART and all existing rapid rail lines — Canada, Expo and Millenium, would receive service upgrades.

In addition, the plan aims to add 400 new buses to boost service, 80% more night-time service, and 11 new B-Lines - there are only two right now.

No date has been set for the referendum that must take place sometime before June 2015. "Let's be clear, there is no plan B," said Mayors' Council chairman Richard Walton.

To pay for all this, the region's mayors expect two-thirds of the funding to come from the provincial and federal governments.

Assuming TransLink will make more each year from additional revenue created by more service, the plan still leaves a $1.9 billion gap.

Two new sources of funding have been proposed to cover that gap.

The mayors want to rely initially on reallocating the Lower Mainland's portion of the BC Carbon Tax - worth $250 million each year — to transit funding.

Raising the tax in Metro Vancouver by $20 to $25 per tonne of emissions could also work. After the first five years, the plan calls for road tolls — using examples of highway tolls and even city-wide time-and-distance-based travel — to pay for the remaining $250 million per year.

Mayors said they would reduce the gas tax by six cents when road tolls are implemented.

As part of the plan, TransLink's annual budget would be boosted from $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion.

But most of the major projects are not expected to be in place, or even begin construction in some cases, until years after the plan begins.

"That's a lot of money"

Transport Minister Todd Stone has already rejected one funding suggestion mere hours after Lower Mainland mayors pitched their transit plan.

"There is no chance whatsoever the province of British Columbia will agree to a reallocation of existing carbon tax," he said.

He pointed out a lack of capital funds from the federal government could also be an issue with the ambitious plan.

"The $5 billion that's roughly allocated for major rapid transit expansion and replacement for the Pattullo bridge — that's a lot of money, particularly over a 10-year time frame," he said.

"We don't have any confirmation from the feds that they would be able to step up to that degree."

Stone, however, is open to discussing road tolls and a regional carbon tax, which could mean higher prices at the pump.

B.C.'s current $30 per emission-tonne tax equates to 6.67-cents per litre.

"I'm about keeping things on the table opposed to taking them off the table," he said, adding there is "a high-degree of merit" in considering road pricing.

Stone added the next step is for mayors to set a referendum date and come up with ideas for the question.

Burnaby alone in opposition

Mayor Derek Corrigan stands alone in opposition of the new regional transportation plan voted on by 21 Lower Mainland leaders Thursday.

"In this case they went for virtually everything and I don't think that's going to be palatable to the majority of the people," he said.

Corrigan said his main concern is the two "mega" rail projects in Surrey and Vancouver — the light rail lines and the subway.

Those two items alone would cost a combined $4 billion to build and about $45 million each year to run.

"These huge capital expenditures are an incredible burden given the other infrastructure we have to put in," Corrigan said.

"We just had the Canada Line come through for 2010, we're in the process of bringing in the Evergreen Line. To push on to building brand new transit lines immediately seems to me to be overly ambitious and probably not sustainable."

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