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Mar 12,2008 Tri City News

The path to a decision about the Evergreen Line’s route has become a long and winding road.

And Monday night’s special city council meeting in Coquitlam was no exception.

The meeting, scheduled for 30 minutes, lasted triple that and ended with a 6-3 vote to adopt the northwest corridor through Port Moody as the priority route for the $1.4-billion automated light rapid transit (ALRT) line.

The issue was dubbed “difficult” by new city manager Peter Steblin, who told council, “There are clearly very divided opinions” before explaining staff’s recommendation to back the northwest route.

The option was recommended due to the historical commitment and consistency with local and regional plans, the “slight preference” shown by residents for the route, performance factors and the fear that a southeast route along Lougheed Highway would imperil the future of the Riverview Hospital lands.

“Even though it might be irrational,” Steblin said of the latter, “it is a concern that is out there.”

Coun. Fin Donnelly agreed, adding later, “If you put it by Riverview’s doorstep, [the land] will be developed.”

The northwest corridor has been the proposed route for rapid transit since the 1980s. There are some technical advantages to the route, according to the business case, but both routes have the same capital costs and the northwest route has slightly lower operating and maintenance costs.

The travel time for the northwest route would be about 12.6 minutes from Lougheed Town Centre to Douglas College, two minutes faster than the southeast route, which would have a higher ridership by 2031, it was predicted.

Coun. Barrie Lynch said the northwest route is the best for the city, based on input from residents, and Coun. Neal Nicholson noted the Port Moody route is better planned and studied.

Coun. Mae Reid led council on a visual ride of each route, pointing out the benefits of the northwest option, including proximity to SFU, high-density development and a hospital. The southeast route doesn’t have the same advantages, she said.

“So today, and it’s today I’m worried about... the southeast route isn’t ready.”

Not all of her counterparts agreed.

“I believe we have to be visionary, rather than reactionary, regarding this transit route,” said Coun. Doug Macdonell, who argued the southeast route would improve the economic future of the city.

He said the future of Riverview is being “unfairly linked” to the southeast route, and added SkyTrain along North Road would dominate the area with concrete, as does the Canada Line along No. 3 Road in Richmond.

Coun. Brent Asmundson began his comments by calling out Port Moody council for flip-flopping on its technology choice.

The city held a referendum in which residents said “no” to SkyTrain, he said, then its council “dictated” to Coquitlam that transit technology had to be LRT. Now that the province has chosen SkyTrain, he asked, why hasn’t Port Moody held to results of its referendum?

Later, he called Riverview development fears “a red herring” and said Housing Minister Rich Coleman said in a letter Mayor Maxine Wilson that the province has no intentions of developing Riverview.

Coun. Richard Stewart, who also supported the southeast option, said the decision was being made “for all the wrong reasons.”

A route shouldn’t be chosen to avoid something, he said, but rather to serve residents. “Does it serve Coquitlam best? I don’t think it does.”

Councillors Stewart, Macdonell and Asmundson voted against the northwest recommendation, with the latter two also opposed to a recommendation to “express gratitude” to the province and TransLink to bring ALRT to Coquitlam and the northeast sector.

Councillors voted unanimously to request that the province and TransLink work with stakeholders to develop a long-term plan for rapid transit in the southeast corridor.

In Port Coquitlam Monday night, council voted 5-2 to back the northwest route of the Evergreen Line (see separate story).

And last night (after The Tri-City News’ deadline), Port Moody council last night was expected to make a similar resolution by backing the ALRT at-grade along the CP Rail right-of-way.

Tri-City councils have until March 17 to submit route preferences, after which they will wait to see if their wishes carry any weight.

Mayor Wilson reiterated that in an interview Friday, saying that during a northeast sector mayors’ meeting last week, the “tone was, ‘We don’t have complete control over this, the province will ultimately make the decision.’”

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