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Mar 21,2008 Burnaby Now

SkyTrain contentious in Burnaby, too

Brooke Larsen, Burnaby Now

Published: Friday, March 21, 2008

Burnaby city councillors clashed Monday over the future of the Evergreen Line.

While most spoke against the provincial government's choice of SkyTrain technology, some backed the move.

In February, the province announced that SkyTrain is the preferred technology for the line, designed to connect the Tri-Cities to Burnaby. Previous plans included light rail.

Monday's long, at-times bitter, discussion was spurred by a 23-page city staff report that takes issue with the province's business case for choosing SkyTrain technology.

"There are some councillors who should get off their knees," Mayor Derek Corrigan said, referring to comments Coun. Garth Evans had made earlier in the meeting advising councillors to get on board with SkyTrain.

"It's not going to make any difference what we say," Evans told councillors, adding that council should instead focus on the line's route.

The northwest route would take the line through Port Moody, while the southeast route would take it past Riverview Hospital.

The province gave municipalities 45 days to provide input on route selection, a process that ended this week.

Evans noted that Burnaby has approved high-density development near the proposed Cameron station, but the station won't be built if the province chooses the southeast route.

Coun. Lee Rankin spoke in favour of SkyTrain technology, praising it as a "Canadian" technology.

"It will be faster, it will get more people out of their cars," Rankin said. "SkyTrain is superior in every respect."

But Corrigan pointed out that Kuala Lumpur and Las Vegas are the only other cities using SkyTrain. He wondered aloud why anyone would support a technology that's been rejected by major North American cities.

The staff report took issue with several aspects of the province's recent business case, including its reasons for choosing SkyTrain. According to the report, the business case exaggerates ridership estimates for SkyTrain and does not delve into potential problems in linking the Evergreen and Millennium lines.

"They plucked numbers out of the air," Coun. Nick Volkow said, adding that the business case includes "bogus" ridership estimates that favour SkyTrain.

Coun. Dan Johnston agreed, noting differences between the 2007 and 2008 business cases.

"It's like you're looking at a proposal for a totally different community," he said, adding that residents should be concerned about the public-private funding model proposed for the project.

"I think it's scary. You saw how much attention they're paying to businesses along the Cambie line."

Coun. Pietro Calendino pointed out that communities in the Tri-Cities have voted in favour of the northwest route.

Cost was a major concern for Coun. Sav Dhaliwal, who's worried taxpayers would be stuck paying for cost overruns. Dhaliwal also said he's concerned the project would suck money from other transportation needs like bus service.

"This is an issue for everyone in the Lower Mainland who is going to be paying for this -- forever," Dhaliwal said. "It's up to us to raise this flag and hopefully, someone will listen."

The report notes that the choice of SkyTrain technology would mean the loss of a Cameron street station, as well as "noise and visual intrusion" associated with a guideway in the median of North Road. It states that although the province's business case shows the northwest corridor is superior to the southeast in terms of ridership, cost/benefit and ease of completion, the northwest route has "technical advantages."

"LRT, with the inclusion of Cameron station, would provide better service to the community in the Lougheed Town Centre area," the report states

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