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Mayors' Council approves transportation vision

METRO VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation wants $7.5 billion in new funding over the next decade to improve roadways around Metro Vancouver.

The comprehensive plan has passed, with 20 of 21 mayors in favour.

The vision includes major projects like a tolled four-lane Pattullo Bridge, light rail transit lines in Surrey, a Millenium Line extension to Arbutus in Vancouver, and 11 new B-Line routes over the next 30 years.

The region’s mayors have had to agree on the transportation vision, but Surrey’s mayor has long called for a six lane Pattullo — not four.

Dianne Watts says she’s not thrilled about the prospect of another toll, without a regional strategy.

“I’ve never been a proponent of tolling individual pieces of infrastructure at a high level and that’s why I think that road pricing and mobility pricing is the way to go, it’s the best practice around the world.”

In addition, SeaBus would see a 50 per cent increase in service and HandyDart would get a 30 per cent boost. The Expo and Canada Lines would also get upgrades, as would the West Coast Express.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan cast the only “no” vote.

Corrigan says he hasn’t seen any evidence to support the fact that the province is going to listen regarding these mega-projects. “We should be looking at what we can do to make the bus system work very effectively and stop dreaming in Technicolor.”

“I think that we need to form much more complete communities,” Corrigan said. “We can’t have everybody moving from Surrey and Langley and Abbotsford to Downtown Vancouver. It’s not realistic to keep pushing people to the end of a peninsula.”

“I’ve long been a supporter of people being able to live and work within their own municipalities, creating effective town centres where jobs are created, so everybody isn’t dependent on moving down to Vancouver for entertainment, employment, for other uses,” he explains.

“A complete community on the other side of the Fraser River would take a lot of those congestion problems away. Right now, the focus continues to be, how quickly can I get to Downtown Vancouver and I don’t think that’s workable, I don’t think it’s sustainable and I don’t think its our future.”

The mayors are asking that $250 million of the BC Carbon Tax pay for all this. The plan also calls for the feds and the province to chip in a third of the cost of major infrastructure projects.

BC Transportation Minister Todd Stone is not open to using provincial carbon tax dollars to fund the plan.

Stone says he has been very clear with regional mayors that if any new funding sources are suggested to help fund the plan, don’t touch provincial revenue.

“That $250-million of existing carbon tax collected in the Lower Mainland is completely offset with an equivalent amount of provincial income tax reductions. There is no chance whatsoever that the province of British Columbia will agree to a reallocation of exisiting carbon tax,” he says.

“I am not going to be the minister who goes out there and tells the people of the Lower Mainland that we’re going to jack up your income taxes so that the mayors can use the existing carbon tax that is collected to fund expansion of transit,” he adds.

Stone says the province is open to discussing a new regional Metro Vancouver carbon tax to help fund the plan.

There is still no agreement on the wording for that referendum question on funding a transportation plan.

Premier Christy Clark feels there’s more work needed.

“So, old sources of revenue, existing sources of revenue cannot be part of the question, so the mayors, I know, have some ambitious plans for transit in the Lower Mainland.”

The Mayors’ Council anticipates $5 million in new revenue from increased ridership.

Jordan Bateman with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says he’s against the plan. “We in the past have likened TransLink to a group of pyromaniacs when it comes to tax money, they can’t burn through enough of it. Today the mayors gave them a gas can and a blow torch.”

Bateman says he’s thrilled provincial carbon tax revenue won’t be used.

He says it’s time to let the people have their say. “Ultimately this is a value proposition for voters. Do they feel like TransLink deserves more of their tax dollars?”

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says investments in transit would cut congestion, grow the economy and meet the needs of the region’s increasing population. He says more than one million people are expected to move to Metro Vancouver in the next 30 years.

The NDP Critic for TransLink says the mayors have covered their bases in the plan.

George Heyman says it’s impressive, considering the time crunch imposed by the province. “I think it’s time for the minister to sit down, say yes to the mayors, work out the details, and get a referendum passed as quickly as possible.”

The Vancouver Board of Trade’s President and CEO, Iain Black, said in a release, that one of their organization’s core beliefs is that the economy cannot thrive without an efficient, reliable and safe movement of goods and people.

“Transportation is critical to our shared economic destiny. With that in mind, the business community is encouraged to see Metro Vancouver’s mayors working together in an unprecedented way, to and formulate a joint strategy for the next decade, and tackle the very pressing challenges that lie ahead.”

He adds they made it clear that their strategy must recognize the need for integrated transportation and land-use planning across all levels of government.

“The Vancouver Board of Trade is pleased that today’s strategy places an emphasis on alleviating congestion and addressing regional growth, a move that resonates with The Vancouver Board of Trade’s Principles for Regional Transportation — a document we submitted to the Mayors’ Council late last month. It’s abundantly clear that congestion in the Lower Mainland costs our economy.”