Mar 14,2008 Tri City News

With a great deal of skepticism and a healthy dose of criticism for the provincial government and TransLink, Port Moody councillors reluctantly voiced their support for the Evergreen Line’s northwest route.

Long-term council members, including Mayor Joe Trasolini and councillors Meghan Lahti and Diana Dilworth, expressed frustration at finding themselves in the same SkyTrain debate they were in 10 years ago.

That they were given only 45 days to make a decision on which corridor to support — and with variables such cost, tunnelling and station location still up in the air — left councillors visibly perturbed.

And while they were unanimous in their desire for some form of rapid transit coming to the northeast sector, two councillors withheld their support for the northwest route recommendation.

Coun. Shannon Watkins said more buses — not SkyTrain-type transit — are needed and the majority of people who spoke at the town hall meeting and submitted written comments favoured the southeast route, along Lougheed Highway past Riverview Hospital. She also said it is “frightening” that the provincial government was asking Tri-City councils to make a decision with so little information.

“If we say yes to the line, there are zero guarantees it will be at grade along the CP Rail right-of-way,” she added. “There are promises they’ll try, but no guarantees.”

Watkins, as well as several residents who spoke during the regular public input period, questioned whether the city was legally obligated to uphold the results of the 2004 referendum question, which asked residents whether they wanted a SkyTrain route through Moody Centre.

Only 3,881 people voted but 73.25% of them voted No.

Trasolini explained that 2004 opposition was to an elevated system down St. Johns Street, not an objection to SkyTrain itself.

Coun. Mike Clay called the Evergreen plans “the most ill-conceived, ill-prepared and sketchy proposition” he has seen and couldn’t support either route recommendation. He balked at the spectre of at-grade SkyTrain, saying it would surely bring with it high fences and barbed wire, and noted the Port Moody route wouldn’t serve Eagle Ridge Hospital because it is well outside TransLink’s walking distance standards.

“But I don’t think it matters what I say,” he added, “I don’t think it matters what any of us say.”

Dilworth reasoned that a Port Moody route is essential because of the overflowing West Coast Express and 97-B Line, and gridlocked traffic for Tri-City residents who don’t have access to convenient transit. Although she said she struggled with the decision, Dilworth said existing and future development — much of it to meet the demands of the Liveable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP) — made the northwest route a necessity; the economic development potential would be an added advantage.

“I have great concerns about where the tunnel portal will end, I have concerns about the pinch points, where the stations are going to be,” she said. “I do know in recommending our support for an alignment through Port Moody it’s a step forward. But my support is conditional that it’s at grade. If it ever turned out to be different, I think we would all revoke our support.”

Coun. Bob Elliott was also torn but said, “We have to get on with it.” And should the province or TransLink shift to an elevated system, Elliott said he would be the first one to lay down in front of the shovel.

Lahti said the province’s actions are “disrespectful” to the city’s history, to council, residents, businesses and to the region as a whole.

“The decision to bring rapid transit to Port Moody was made in 1995 when the council of the day signed on to the LRSP,” she said, and every development decision since 1999 has been made with that promise in mind.

“We can’t turn our backs on those plans now.”

“Port Moody has densified, billions of dollars of investment has been made,” Trasolini concluded. “There is a contractual arrangement between Port Moody, the GVRD and TransLink for rapid transit to serve the high-density corridor” of the town centre.

“Rapid transit has been planned for, investments have been made. It’s not a question of ‘Do we want rapid transit?’ It’s ‘We must.’”