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Dec 11,2008 Tri City News

Evergreen a go despite other transit moves, says minister

B.C.’s transportation minister predicts the federal government will step up “in the coming weeks” with a major contribution to build the Evergreen Line through Port Moody to Coquitlam.

Kevin Falcon, who announced detailed studies laying the groundwork for rapid transit extensions in Surrey and Vancouver, was responding to questions about fears the Evergreen Line may be stalled and not proceed first.

“We’re going ahead as fast as we humanly can on that line,” he said, referring to Evergreen, adding a project office is being opened.

At Thursday’s press conference at the Gateway SkyTrain station, Falcon announced the studies will take up to two years to complete and will determine what technology — SkyTrain, light rail, whatever, will be used on rapid transit line extensions to UBC and in Surrey.

“I will go wherever the evidence tells us to go,” he said. “Whatever technology makes sense.”

The six-kilometre SkyTrain extension in Surrey is tentatively proposed to run from Surrey City Centre to Guildford, south on 152 Street to the Fraser Highway and then southeast as far as 168 Street. Final routing depends on the study findings.

The Vancouver line would connect UBC to the existing SkyTrain and Canada Lines via the Broadway corridor.

The price tag on either extension would run from the hundreds of millions of dollars if cheaper light rail is used to well into the billions if elevated or buried SkyTrain is picked. But operating costs, service levels achieved and ridership capacity are also important considerations.

Critics have argued light rail could be built further and faster for the same money and fear a choice of SkyTrain could truncate the system far short of Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

Both line extensions were first announced as part of the Provincial Transit Plan in January and are to be built by 2020. TransLink and Victoria will split the $10-million cost of the studies.

The expansions are based on the region growing by a million people in the next 30 years. The population south of the Fraser is expected to climb 55%, with employment up 75% over the same period.

The province will confer with Surrey and Vancouver to see what kind of advantage can be realized through land zoning allowing higher density development near future stations.

But the entire future of TransLink’s transit expansion plans also hinge on finding new revenue sources — through possibly controversial taxes — to raise $300 to $500 million more a year. Without the extra money, TransLink can’t afford to pay its share of building the lines, let alone operate them.

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