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Oct 13,2006

Evergreen Line's future uncertain

By Lineen Robb - Staff Reporter

The Evergreen Line will be shelved unless senior levels of government give TransLink $400 million by April 2007.

That was the message at a news conference in a Metrotown highrise Thursday morning, as TransLink chair Malcolm Brodie and vice-president of capital management and engineering Sheri Plewes briefed reporters on the business case for the proposed rapid transit line.

If the line is built, it's projected to convert 1.9 million annual car trips to transit soon after it opens - with that number growing to 3.6 million trips per year by 2021.

The line is being touted as the equivalent of eight new lanes of roadway along the Clarke Road-St. Johns Street-Pinetree Way corridor, in terms of people-moving capacity.

But after detailing the projected benefits of the line, Brodie and Plewes got down to business and addressed the fact that the federal government has not yet pledged any money toward the project.

"We have a funding gap," Plewes said, explaining that TransLink needs an additional $400 million before it can begin construction, which is now estimated to cost $970 million. TransLink has already pledged $400 million toward the line, and the province has promised $170 million after 2010.

Brodie, who is also mayor of Richmond, said TransLink has "always known" about the funding gap, but added that he is "confident" senior levels of government will come up with the cash.

"I believe that the business case is very sound," he said.

When asked, however, what would happen to the project if the money does not come through, Brodie would not give a definitive answer.

"We would have to consider that as a board," he said, but the implication is obvious: it's all or nothing for the Evergreen Line, which is slated to run from Lougheed Mall to Douglas College and cannot easily be broken into segments.

"I personally can't see building [just] a part of this line," Brodie said.

While the Canada Line currently being built from Vancouver to Richmond is being funded through a public-private partnership, Brodie said taking that route is not an option for the Evergreen Line - which, unlike its counterpart, would not link a central business district, an international airport and the province's largest hospital.

"You would not be able to raise the private sector capital required," Brodie said of the Evergreen Line.

All three Tri-Cities mayors were also in attendance at the TransLink news conference, to bolster the case for rapid transit in the region by answering reporters' questions after the briefing.

Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson said she's hopeful rapid transit will come to the Tri-Cities.

"We think we'll get it," she said. "We're hopeful."

Port Coquitlam Mayor Scott Young, however, spelled it out when he said the Tri-Cities are "at the mercy of senior levels of government."

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, meanwhile, said he hopes the province will take the lead in securing funding.

But he warned that there will be "dire consequences" to the economic development and livability of the northeast sector if the line doesn't go ahead.

Trasolini has already announced that he will not OK any more development in Port Moody if the line is shelved.

He said Thursday that "the community is ready for these kinds of statements."

"We have had enough, we've been left at the altar a couple of times with promises _ we now are saying, 'Show us the money,'" Trasolini said.

Before TransLink secures the $400 million it needs from senior levels of government, however, it has to face its own board, which may be hesitant to commit $16 million more toward detailed design work on a project that may never be built.

Tri-Cities residents will be able to observe the results of that vote on Wednesday, as the TransLink board holds its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. at Coquitlam City Hall.

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