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June 15,2007

Fund Evergreen Line, NDP leader says

By Jennifer Moreau - NOW Contributor

"Find the funding and get on with it," was Carole James' comment on the proposed and long-awaited Evergreen Line that would connect the Tri-Cities to the Lower Mainland's SkyTrain circuit.

The provincial leader of the New Democratic Party spoke to transit, transportation and other issues affecting the local business community at a Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday.

Chamber president Dennis Marsden identified transportation as the number one issue for the Tri-Cities economy in an earlier interview with The NOW - not just transportation of goods and services, but also of commuters.

"Right now we have them in various bottlenecks," he said, referring to gridlocked traffic.

The community has to have "tough conversations" about transit solutions for the northeast sector and not everyone will be happy, James said to an audience of about 50 at the Executive Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre on the Coquitlam side of North Road.

"We need to get on with it," she said referring to delays in constructing the Evergreen Line.

"There's got to be a timeline set to that."

The Evergreen Line was supposed to be in service by December 2009, but last year TransLink directors bumped the date to September 2011 because of escalating costs.

James also commented on the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge, part of the province's Gateway Program to improve transportation by expanding roads and bridges. While James stated she was not necessarily against twinning the bridge, she said she wanted other options, such as public transit investment, trains and roads, to be considered.

"What I'm against is looking at that as the single way of solving the problem," she said. "It may be part of the solution, but by itself, it's not going to solve congestion problems."

James stated she wasn't necessarily against public-private partnerships (P3s), in particular for funding the Evergreen Line.

However, she said there needs to be proof that P3s save taxpayers money, and so far the evidence points to the contrary.

Members of the audience and the chamber's policy committee posed other questions to James, ranging from taxes and the environment to rising gas prices and the pine beetle infestation.

As forestry companies scramble to cut down trees before pine beetles ruin them, the province makes more money from stumpage fees, James pointed out.

Some of that money should be set aside for a fund to help deal with the problem, she said.

She also recommended making the property transfer tax formula simpler, while calling for more concrete plans on protecting the environment.

James also called for regulating gas prices through the utilities commission and capping greenhouse gas emissions.

In a show of support for her rivals, James commended the Liberals for introducing a bill to license inspectors so homebuyers will have more protection during housing booms.

The NDP doesn't disagree with everything the Campbell government does, she said.

James said the Tri-Cities area has done a remarkable job developing growth and a healthy climate for investment. "People want to live and work here," she said pointing out other towns in the province where residents are moving away.

published on 06/15/2007

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