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March 23, 2017 at 7:07 PM

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2017–18 federal budget: $2.2 billion for regional transit and transportation

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Broadway extension of the Millennium Line

Broadway extension, SkyTrain Millennium Line

This story has been updated to reflect the March 31, 2017 announcement by the Province. Please see below.

The 201718 Federal budget contained some important news for Metro Vancouver, including a $2.2-billion commitment to support regional transit and transportation infrastructure. This is the largest federal investment in our transit in at least two decades, and it will help to fund a number of key projects, including the Millennium Line Broadway Extension (a.k.a. Broadway Subway) and the Surrey LRT. It will also go to support improvements to SkyTrain service on existing lines, an expansion of regional bus service, and additional funding for walking, cycling and roadway infrastructure.

We’re not quite there yet though! The $2.2-billion figure covers an estimated 40% of the current cost of the aforementioned transportation projects, and while the Province has previously agreed to pay a third of the costs, that still leaves a shortfall of 27% to be made up. The Province has indicated that it will not be increasing the amount of its commitment (this has since changed). Instead, it would like to see the difference borne by local municipalities and, in particular, paid for through revenues associated with new development along the transit lines.

This is the same Province that kiboshed a series of funding mechanisms proposed by regional mayors through 2015’s boondoggle of a transit referendum, so it’s safe to assume that this issue will be a prominent one in the lead-up to the upcoming provincial election. While the BC Liberals are holding fast at their 1/3 commitment, the provincial NDP has indicated a willingness to match the federal commitment. The Greens appear to be holding the line on 33% with a commitment to review this amount if elected.

Thinking about the Province’s desire to see new density as key component of the mix, it’s critical to note that the justification for improved transit services is based on levels of service (and service shortfalls) today. In other words, you don’t need any more density to make a case that the region is desperate for transit improvements. We sincerely hope that clear-headedness prevails on this issue. The Mayors’ Council has, for its part, indicated readiness “to roll-up our sleeves in partnership with the BC government and match this funding.”

For the moment though, let’s note this as an important milestone  and let’s also hope that this is sorted out soon. The promised federal investment is in absolute (2017) dollars, not a proportion of the total. That means that the longer anyone takes to figure out how to pony up the shortfall, the more costs on these projects will rise through inflation, which in turn means more funding needed. It’s a cycle no one should want to be in.

Improved transit service is critically important to the future of our city and the whole region. Let’s get this right and get moving.

UPDATE: On March 31, the Province changed its tune and announced that it would match the $2.2B in federal funding. Welcome news! More details can be found via the Vancouver Sun, CBC, and Globe and Mail.

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