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Aug 5,2009 The Now News

Jennifer McFee, Coquitlam NOW
Published: Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Plans to build the Evergreen Line and Murray-Clarke Connector could come to a screeching halt unless an extra $175 million in funds are found by the end of October.

TransLink presented two supplemental financial plans to the mayors' council on regional transportation Friday.

The first plan would require $450 million a year in additional funding to expand services, and would include the Evergreen Line and the Murray-Clarke Connector. TransLink would be able to generate $275 million through the revenue sources it can currently access, such as increasing fuel by three cents per litre and increasing parking sales tax to 21 per cent. Transit fares and property taxes would also rise, and car owners would pay a vehicle levy ranging from $65 to $165 per year.

But in addition to the money raised through these increases, another $175 million must be secured or the plan will be pulled as an option for mayors to consider.

According to a letter TransLink sent to the mayors' council on Friday, one possible source of funds involves "serious consideration of a new road pricing system for the region that will more equitably reflect the true costs of road use." If this notion were to go forward, TransLink would work to develop a strategy with local and provincial governments by the end of the year.

If the missing $175 million of the $450-million plan is not secured, the mayors can still consider a second supplement. This plan would require TransLink to generate $130 million a year to maintain its current roads and transit services. Revenue sources would still include increases to property taxes, fuel tax, parking sales tax and transit fares, but the vehicle levy would be omitted. This option would not include the Evergreen Line or the Murray-Clarke Connector.

If the mayors don't approve either of the supplements, TransLink will default to its base plan that relies on current revenue sources. If the base plan is implemented, drastic cuts would begin almost immediately, including a 40-per-cent reduction in bus service, said TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie.

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said he hopes to see upper-level government injections in the $450-million package so the Evergreen Line and Murray-Clarke Connector could finally come to fruition.

"In order for us to swallow that pill, we need the provincial government and perhaps the federal government to come to the table and help us with the operating budget," he said. "I think that if we all bleed a little bit together, there's hope for us. If all of a sudden we have to bleed and not get our projects, how is that going to bode for us? How do I justify to my residents the imposition of a new levy without having the projects?"

Although he says the council of mayors has no power besides saying yes or no to the supplemental plans, Trasolini remains optimistic the Evergreen Line will move forward.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said TransLink needs sustainable funding sources to operate.

"Unfortunately, when TransLink was established in the late '90s, it was not sustainably funded then and that lack of planning is coming back to haunt us," he said.

"None of these things are free. You have to be willing to pay for some of these services. The challenge is going to be that you can't pay for it on the backs of fares because if you try to do that, people won't take transit ... No one likes to tax, but we're going to have to do that because the alternative is to make drastic cuts. Those would be more unpleasant than taxing."

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