June 30,2010 Georgia Straight

By Carlito Pablo, 

With the Evergreen Line, it would take about 40 minutes to get from Coquitlam Town Centre to downtown Vancouver. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure estimates that this will save rush-hour commuters at least an hour a day.

However, many will have to continue making the long drive, as funding questions and delays in the environmental-assessment process have cast doubt on whether the rapid-transit line will be ready for the scheduled start of operations in late 2014.

Construction of the 11-kilometre line was expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2010, but according to a City of Burnaby staff report, the project is already half a year behind schedule.

Even worse, members of Burnaby city council, who received the report at a meeting on June 28, believe that the line is actually going nowhere.

“If I can say from council last night, most people feel like it will never be built because there’s no funding, and now we see that Vancouver is pressing for the Broadway line to be a priority,” Coun. Colleen Jordan told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview on June 29. “It doesn’t look good.”

The Evergreen Line would connect Coquitlam and Port Moody to the Millennium Line at Lougheed Town Centre Station in Burnaby.

Citing the provincial government’s time line, the Burnaby staff report noted that an environmental-assessment certificate is supposed to be issued by the third quarter of 2010, paving the way for the start of construction before the end of the year.

“The first quarter of next year appears to be more realistic [for when the certificate will be issued], suggesting the project is currently about six months behind the above schedule,” the report states. “It is not known what effect this may have on the date for commencing operational service.”

In February 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Gordon Campbell announced funding for the line, whose construction has been contemplated since the 1990s.

Out of an estimated total project cost of $1.4 billion, the federal government is kicking in $417 million, while the provincial government’s share is $410 million. TransLink is supposed to pony up $400 million, while the provincial government is supposed to find private funding for the remaining $173 million.

However, in its draft plan covering the years 2011 to 2013, TransLink hasn’t allocated money for the expansion of transit services, let alone the Evergreen Line.

As well, according to the Burnaby staff report, the province has neither secured the $173 million nor identified the “project partners” that will provide this amount.

“As such, funding for the Evergreen Line remains uncertain,” the report notes. “The Province has not indicated how the funding shortfall will be addressed. While the Province can continue to fund preliminary work on its own, the funding shortfall will need to be addressed before the project can proceed to construction.”

Dave Duncan, spokesperson for the transportation ministry, told the Straight by phone that the line is still set to be completed by the end of 2014. Construction will start in the spring of 2011, he said.

The provincial government has touted the numerous benefits of having this north of the Fraser River rapid-transit line. A media backgrounder states that the line will enable faster travel times for commuters. It could also remove up to 60,000 cars a day from the roads, and eliminate 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually by the year 2020.

Coquitlam councillor Brent Asmundson drives a bus for the Coast Mountain Bus Company, and he said he’s familiar with how the Evergreen Line has been derailed because of the priorities of the provincial government.

“There’s frustration because in 2007—when we approved the Canada Line construction—it was to go concurrent with the line to Coquitlam,” Asmundson told theStraight in a phone interview. “Well, that got pushed off till 2009, then 2011.”

For now, all that Tri-City residents can do is wait for the Evergreen Line to come, if it ever will.