Provincial government firm on referendum for transit upgrades

Transportation minister says election win supports policy

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone says he will not quash a referendum planned for next fall’s civic elections that will ask voters whether they want to spend money on transit improvements in Metro Vancouver.

Stone reiterated his government’s plan to hold a referendum for Metro Vancouver voters while taking questions Tuesday from reporters at the Waterfront transit hub downtown. The minister had just returned from riding the SkyTrain and bus system in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey.

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“I am under no illusions that the referendum was not a popular concept with most, if not all, of the mayors,” said Stone, noting details on the referendum are expected to be released before Christmas. “But this was a policy that we put before the people of British Columbia in the last election and we won that election. So we intend on following through on that commitment.”

In June, the mayors’ council on regional transportation announced it wouldn’t support a referendum, predicting it would fail and jeopardize transit projects. The mayors’ council, which includes Mayor Gregor Robertson, noted the replacement of the Port Mann Bridge and other major road projects did not require a referendum.

Stone said the Port Mann and the George Massey Tunnel, which the government recently announced would be replaced with a bridge, are “provincial assets” whereas transit improvements fall under TransLink’s budget.

Stone acknowledged the congestion problems at the Commercial Drive/Broadway transit hub and said major transit improvements requested by Surrey and Vancouver will “likely” happen as an estimated one million people move to the region over the next 30 years.

But he didn’t say when or how a referendum would affect future transit needs. Vancouver wants a $2.8 billion subway from Commercial Drive to the University of B.C. and Surrey wants a $1.8 billion light rail system.

“No one disputes the fact that Surrey is one of the fastest growing municipalities in British Columbia, if not the country,” he said. “And some form of LRT solution or rapid bus along a number of different corridors, as currently identified by Surrey, is likely to be projects that we will see move forward. Likewise, when you’re moving 80 to 100,000 people along that Broadway corridor line every day, clearly there’s a demand there — not in five or 10 years from now, but today for some form of rapid transit.”

Stone has met with the mayors’ council and said there is “a high degree of willingness to engage and work with the province by many of the mayors around the table.” He didn’t name the mayors, telling reporters they’d have to talk to each mayor.

Ian Jarvis, the CEO of TransLink, accompanied Stone in the Tuesday morning rush hour tour. Jarvis declined to comment on whether he supports a referendum, saying it was an issue for the provincial government and the mayors. Jarvis said TransLink is focused on its long-range plan, which he said will inform the level of investment and options required to meet transit needs before the referendum.

“We’ve got adequate resources to provide the level of service that’s there today,” he said. “What we don’t have is money for expansion.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

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