Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon rode by car to the Tri-Cities. But in six years, he'll be able to hop off the Evergreen Line at Lougheed Station after confirming a northwest route through Port Moody and a terminus at Douglas College by 2014.
"This project is going forward for the benefit of the Tri-Cities. You've got my word on it," Falcon told a crowd of business and community leaders Friday at a Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
A route up North Road through a tunnel to Port Moody and along the CP Rail right-of-way to Coquitlam is slightly more expensive but still preferable to a southeast route along Lougheed Highway because of lower maintenance, operating and per passenger costs and a shorter travel time, he said.
It also better supports new development already taking place in Port Moody. "I think that's important to recognize," Falcon said.
Still, he said more density will be needed along the route to justify the faster SkyTrain-style system and to get more people onto transit.
He promised extensive consultation with the public — including local businesses — on detailed design for the project, which he said will start almost immediately with the opening of a project office in Coquitlam, although no location has been determined yet.
In addition to detailed design, the province will examine the best form of procurement, including the possibility of a public-private partnership. Falcon said a decision will be ready by fall, with the process to be well underway by winter.
A full environmental assessment will be required and ways to reduce the impact of construction on the community will be studied.
TransLink board Chair Dale Parker said construction of the Evergreen Line shouldn't be as disruptive as construction of the Canada Line from Vancouver to Richmond has been because tunnelling will take place in a low-density area and much of the rapid transit line will travel along the CPR right-of-way.
Falcon said he isn't worried about the federal government contributing its share of funds to the project — an amount of $410 million is expected based on the province's contribution. Some $67 million has already been promised, he said, and he said he's confident the rest will come by the time the project is in the construction phase.
"We'll commit the province to turning the soil," he said.
A gap of more than $200 million would still remain but Falcon suggested it could be filled with private sector equity through a P3, as well as equity generated through land development next to stations through TransLink's real estate arm.
Only sketchy details of TransLink's future real estate plans are available, Parker said, because an identity is still being developed. But he said, "Real estate opportunities [along the line] — that's one area will be focusing on."
The route confirmation was greeted with a standing ovation by many politicians in the crowd; some, including local mayors and councillors, were part of a 45-day public consultation process that eventually resulted in the choice of the northwest option by all local councils.
Several looming issues were raised by members of the audience.
Joanne Granek, executive director of Share Family and Community Services, wanted assurances that people living in low-cost housing along North Road wouldn't be turfed out of their homes when land values skyrocket.
Rising construction costs and impacts on business were also raised. Falcon said bringing a private contractor into the mix through a P3 could remove at least some of the construction risk because it would have to build the project at a fixed cost.
"It's a strong candidate for a private-sector partnership," Falcon said.
As well, he said local businesses could expect to profit during construction because workers tend to spend money close to the job site.
Parker thanked members of the community who got involved in the recent consultation process, saying he appreciated their knowledge and passion. In the end, he said, the mayors of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Burnaby and New Westminster supported the northwest route because they knew it was for the "greater good.
• Start: the existing Lougheed SkyTrain station in Burnaby;
• running along an elevated guideway along North Road to Clarke Road;
• moving through a tunnel starting from just north of Clarke Road and emerging at the bottom of Clarke Road hill;
• changing to a ground-level track next to the CPR line;
• continuing to the Ioco Road overpass, where it would then run eastward to Coquitlam Central Station;
• changing back to an elevated guideway heading towards Pinetree Way;
• then running north along Pinetree to a terminus just north of Guildford Way (Douglas College).
• A station will be built as close to Douglas College as possible depending on land negotiations, Falcon said.
• Turnstiles to prevent fare evaders will be part of station-design
• More details about station locations will be developed through public consultation, expected to begin almost immediately when a project office opens in Coquitlam.