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July 15,2009 The Now News

Jennifer McFee
Coquitlam NOW
Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A funding shortfall may once again put the brakes on plans to build the long-awaited Evergreen Line.

At the end of the month, TransLink will bring forward several funding plans to the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation. The mayors will have until the end of October to decide whether to approve a plan with supplemental funding or stick with a 10-year base plan that reflects current revenue with no new funding sources.

But these proposals won't necessarily include the Evergreen Line, said TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie.

The Evergreen Project Office along Barnet Highway opposite Coquitlam Centre is open, but funding for the line is still up in the air.

The Evergreen Project Office along Barnet Highway opposite Coquitlam Centre is open, but funding for the line is still up in the air.

Paul vanPeenen, Coquitlam NOW
To get the $1.4-billion project rolling, the federal government, provincial government and TransLink each need to contribute about $400 million, with the remaining amount coming from project partners. However, Hardie said TransLink does not have its share of the capital funds, not to mention money needed to cover operational costs.

"That money does not exist," Hardie said. "We do not have a source for that funding."

Hardie said TransLink wants to see the project underway, but first it needs a source for the funds.

"There is no doubt that TransLink wants to commit to that $400 million. But with all the other things standing up and begging for attention, we don't have a source for that $400 million," Hardie said. "The province and the federal government have access to many times more funding sources than we do. They can run deficits. We cannot."

Even if additional funding sources are approved, TransLink's priorities are to maintain existing service, maintain equipment and meet existing demand. TransLink can only consider expansion after these areas are met, Hardie said.

"That's where the Evergreen Line comes in. The Evergreen Line will eventually handle a great deal of people coming out of the northeast sector and into the rapid transit network," he said. "But it is for the future, whereas we have issues right now that are begging for attention."

To Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, the ideal solution would be to inject the regional transportation system with revenue from the carbon tax.

"The province has said that's not what it was designed for," Stewart said. "But I still passionately believe that is the direction we have to go. Therein lies the answer -- a system that raises the money for transit from carbon."

Despite financial concerns, Stewart remains confident the 11-kilometre rapid transit line will be built.

"The bigger question isn't whether Evergreen will happen because I know it will happen. I'm confident and convinced utterly it will happen," Stewart said. "But how do we get there? How do we substantially change the way we fund our transportation system in Greater Vancouver? The bigger solution that's required right now is sustainable funding for transportation in Greater Vancouver."

For Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, that solution needs to come collaboratively from all levels of government.

"TransLink has a very limited area where they can go for the funds, so I think both the federal and provincial government need to be at the table trying to meet the needs of the shortfall. I'm not trying to be political on this. It has nothing to do with politics," Trasolini said. "Let's get together with a united voice, throw away the politics and come up with solutions. Municipal elections are over. Provincial elections are over. Let's face the struggle that we have and solve it together."

While Trasolini has one eye on the Evergreen Line, he is also keeping other transportation projects in view.

"My hope is that we have the provincial government very entrenched in their promises to bring the Evergreen Line on and to make it a reality. I hope that happens," he said.

"But the Murray-Clarke overpass is as important as the Evergreen Line. The recent accident to the overpass has underlined and focused on the need. Look what happens when there is a bit of problem. It's chaos.

"Let's not just only focus on the Evergreen Line for the Tri-Cities. With the opening of the Golden Ears Bridge, more and more vehicles are going to be hitting that very narrow corridor. If the Murray-Clarke overpass is not addressed, we are going to have a huge problem. On both of those issues, I'm asking for co-operation."
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