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Dec 17,2010 Vancouver Sun


Long-awaited plan that would see vital SkyTrain link constructed has yet to leave the station

General manager  Chris Hogan (centre), and owners Marilyn and dad Garry Hogan of  Hogan's Restaurant & Lounge in their restaurant's dining room in  Port Moody on Wednesday.

General manager Chris Hogan (centre), and owners Marilyn and dad Garry Hogan of Hogan's Restaurant & Lounge in their restaurant's dining room in Port Moody on Wednesday.

Photograph by: Les Bazso, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

When the Hogan family opened Hogan's Restaurant and Lounge in Port Moody earlier this year, they figured the Evergreen Line would help rejuvenate the old town and bring in more foot traffic.

Months later, they're still waiting, partly because property owners and developers are holding off on any new plans until they're sure the SkyTrain line will come through town.

And even if it does -- construction is scheduled to start next year -- a station planned for the old section of town has been canned, meaning the Hogans will have to wait even longer to reap any benefits.

"The old town is very quiet. We're doing pretty good but we're a destination," Marilyn Hogan said. "We have to market and spend money like crazy; there's no one coming by here.

"[The SkyTrain] will help us but not immediately and not directly. It's made things a lot more long term for us."

The Hogans only moved to Port Moody in March. But others have been waiting even longer to see the benefits of the Evergreen Line, an 11-kilometre rapid transit line that has been promised to link Burnaby, Port Moody and Coquitlam for the past 20 years.

The $1.4-billion rapid transit line has been in limbo as Trans-Link tries to find ways to fund its $400-million share. It initially suggested a property tax increase, but mayors balked at that, leading Transportation Minister Shirley Bond to give TransLink a few more months to come up with alternative funding sources in its "supplemental funding" plan for the next three years. The rest of the funding will come from the federal and provincial governments.

In a report on the TransLink plan, regional transportation commissioner Martin Crilly noted the longer the Evergreen Line lies in limbo, the more uncertainties will abound. He noted previous studies found that a high-capacity, high-speed rapid transit link to the northeast sector is justified "only if its potential to shape the form of urban development is realized."

Municipalities along the route have already created significant density, he said, but added there's concern about what "urban form" the area will take in the future.

But both Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini and Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart insist there is still potential for development in their cities, which have been focusing high-density projects around designated transit modes such as Newport Village and Coquitlam Town Centre.

Port Moody has suspended growth until the Evergreen Line is built. Other areas such as Burquitlam, which is slated for redevelopment, have been waiting years for a facelift to boost business and attract more people to live and work in the community.

Stewart noted his city is committed to building density within 400 metres of a SkyTrain station, pointing out some sections of Burnaby's Millennium Line, such as Holdom and Lake City Way, are an "enormous disappointment" because there's no one living around them. But he noted nobody wants to build anything until the shovel hits the ground.

"Once [construction of the Evergreen Line] starts, everyone will breathe a sigh of relief and start development," he said, adding people don't want to buy a condo in a "dirty part of town" when they're not sure the SkyTrain is ever going to arrive. Trasolini acknowledged some businesses in his city, particularly along the St. John's corridor, are struggling.

"The existing neighbourhood is suffering because of a lack of certainty about the future," he said. "We can't even build an 11-kilometre SkyTrain line. It's been 20 years and we've got nothing."

While the province has said construction will begin on the line next year, Stewart said nothing should be taken for granted. While TransLink has been given the option to find additional funding sources, he added, the regional mayors had already committed to the SkyTrain line and may have to raise taxes to do it.

TransLink's proposed supplemental funding plans called for mayors to raise property taxes at least $36 per average household, starting in 2012.

"I hope we can come up with a better solution," Stewart said, adding TransLink isn't even working toward putting commercial businesses in the transit stations. "Property tax doesn't guide anyone's actions."

Crilly agreed that while property taxes have a role to play in transportation investments, there has to be more of a focus on finding "stable and predictable funding sources," such as road tolls, to encourage more people to use transit.

He said the more funding sources "influence travel behaviour," the faster Trans-Link will get people out of their cars and using the region's transportation.

Berit Sunde, owner of By Berit Boutique on Clarke Street, said shopkeepers are facing a double whammy because the long-awaited Murray-Clarke Connector has been bumped from TransLink's priority list.

Marilyn Hogan said she expects that the Evergreen Line will eventually bring more people to the area but doesn't expect that right away because it'll take years for more residential development to happen.

"All the old heritage of Port Moody is here, the art community ... everything Port Moody is built on is in the old town. I'm disappointed by the lack of interest. We thought there would be some rejuvenation of the area."

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