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Sep 18,2009 Vancouver Sun

Victoria plans to work with TransLink to find ways to raise its $400-million share

The B.C. government has announced plans to start building the long-awaited $1.4-billion Evergreen Line by late next year even though TransLink doesn't have the money to pay for it.

Transportation Minister Shirley Bond said Thursday the province is committed to the 11-kilometre rapid transit project and will work with TransLink to find ways to raise its $400-million share.

The provincial and federal governments have already contributed $800 million to the project, which will link Burnaby and Coquitlam via Port Moody.

"We intend to see the Evergreen Line built," Bond said, adding the design process is underway. "Anytime you have $800 million in federal and provincial funding on the table we have to be sure we can deliver."

The announcement comes as TransLink struggles to raise funds to maintain and expand transit services over the next 10 years.

The transportation authority argues it can't afford to build and operate the Evergreen Line unless it can raise at least $450 million annually to maintain and expand transit services.

But that plan was criticized by regional transportation commissioner Martin Crilly as unrealistic as TransLink didn't say where the money would come from. Crilly also warned TransLink to learn to live within its means.

TransLink, which needs the approval of both Crilly and the regional mayors' council to increase fares by more than two per cent a year, and to set up other fundraising mechanisms, has since said it can't afford the Evergreen Line.

But Bond insists there are efficiencies to be found, noting a review of TransLink's finances should be completed by the end of the month.

At that time, her ministry will sit down with the mayors and TransLink to explore options, including raising property and gas taxes and transit fares. She insisted, however, the Evergreen Line would not be built "at the expense" of other B.C. regions.

"My biggest concern is that TransLink and the GVTA said in 2007 the number-one priority was the Evergreen Line," Bond said. "The regions have to decide how they're going to pay their share."

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she's glad to hear the province is committed to building the Evergreen Line, but questions how it will come up with the cash to build and operate it.

Metro Vancouver mayors, who oppose raising property taxes, have called for a meeting with Bond to discuss TransLink's financial crisis and ways to deal with it.

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