Sep 16,2010 Tri City News
A new cash infusion for TransLink to build the Evergreen Line will be on the agenda when Metro Vancouver mayors meet behind closed doors next Thursday with the premier and transportation minister.
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who chairs the mayors' council on transportation, said he hopes regional and provincial politicians emerge with a new understanding at the meeting in Coquitlam.
"The premier is willing to come for the first time," he said. "To me, that's a strong signal of the government's willingness to work with us. But nothing is a done deal until it's done."
Fassbender would not say whether the money might come from raising TransLink property taxes, regional fuel taxes or a different mechanism – such as a vehicle levy that was debated last year but shelved.
Also unclear is whether any deal in the works will be limited to just delivering TransLink's $400-million agreed share of the $1.4-billion cost of constructing the long-promised Evergreen Line to Coquitlam or whether it will be a broader refinancing, allowing additional rapid transit extensions in Surrey and Vancouver.
Metro mayors took a strong position last year that an Evergreen-only solution was unacceptable when they voted to add only $130 million in tax and fare hikes – enough to stabilize TransLink finances but not to build and operate the new line.
They rejected a bigger supplement to raise TransLink's budget by $450 million – mostly by imposing a $122 annual vehicle levy – because it counted on the province delivering $175 million in new sources, potentially through road pricing or regional tolling.
The strategy then was to continue talks with Victoria towards a bigger, broader solution.
Fassbender said TransLink is now crafting a new financial supplement he hopes mayors can vote on by the end of the year.
"My suspicion is it will be the Evergreen Line plus a few of the other regional priorities," he said, adding additional projects beyond Evergreen Line could be options with extra funding requirements.
He said TransLink may also need to raise money for projects like the North Fraser Perimeter Road, where federal government grant money must be used soon or lost.
Mayors in the past have been united in saying Metro taxpayers could not afford sharply higher property taxes for TransLink, an option transportation minister Shirley Bond had before said needed more consideration.
Meetings around the region earlier this summer between Bond and local reps sought to hammer out an understanding on just what the region's taxpayers already pay and how much the province contributes.
Fassbender said Thursday's meeting will focus more on ensuring the mayors and province have a solid understanding of how to move forward, rather than the specifics of a new funding supplement.
"Hopefully what we find is the appropriate compromise and the appropriate solutions that everybody is prepared to bring to the table," Fassbender said.
Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, vice-chair of the mayors council, said he and most other mayors have consistently said property taxpayers cannot bear the brunt of building new transit lines and that the region needs long-term sustainable financing, not one-off fixes.
"We all want an effective, financially sustainable transit system for Metro Vancouver," Bond said in a statement. "This meeting is another occasion for us to work together to find solutions."
TransLink Commissioner Martin Crilly this week approved TransLink's 2011 base plan, but cautioned more money must be found somewhere to deliver the longer-range vision for the region.
His report urges consideration of some form of road pricing, including "a coordinated tolling policy for TransLink and provincial bridges" as well as tighter region-wide parking restrictions.
Road pricing is considered one way to raise money while deterring driving, encouraging transit use and making more efficient use of bridge and highway capacity.
Plans to toll both the new Port Mann Bridge and potentially the rebuilt Pattullo, in addition to the Golden Ears Bridge, have angered Surrey-area motorists, some of whom say all bridges in the region should be tolled.
The province has so far shown no sign of changing its policy of allowing tolls only on new infrastructure.