New rapid transit lines not tied to next election: Sohi

Federal infrastructure minister says grant timing is about project readiness not politics

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi is defending the federal government’s choice of a two-track grant rollout for transit projects that could leave new rapid transit lines in Metro Vancouver waiting until after the next federal election.

Critics have said the back-end loading of much infrastructure grant money into the 2020s may leave Surrey light rail and the Vancouver SkyTrain extension dependent on the Trudeau Liberals’ re-election for a final green light.

“This is not about waiting until the next mandate – that’s totally misinformation,” Sohi told Black Press.

“My goal is to conclude our long-term plan within the next year. And assure our partners that when their projects are ready to go, we will be there to support them.”

Sohi said Surrey LRT and the Broadway subway need more work before they reach the shovel-ready stage, when major funding could flow, but added that could be sooner than the next election.

“We will work with them to advance their projects as quickly as they are ready to go.”

The first stage of federal funding is to deliver an estimated $370 million in transit infrastructure grants for Metro Vancouver.

That money is to help with design or engineering work on the major new lines, as well as other transit improvements, such as bus system expansions and SkyTrain station upgrades.

TransLink and Metro Vancouver mayors are already considering what transit upgrades could be launched rapidly.

“My goal is to ensure that this money flows to them in this construction season,” Sohi said, admitting that timeline is tight. “We will work very diligently with the province to sign bilateral agreements with them so money can start flowing to communities as quickly as possible.”

Another $212 million in the federal budget for Metro Vancouver’s new sewage treatment plant on the North Shore will flow as soon as that project is ready to go, Sohi added.

Sohi said mayors across the country overwhelmingly support the plan, which promises $120 billion in infrastructure spending over 10 years.

The new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel – the province’s top infrastructure priority – wasn’t mentioned in the federal budget last week.

Sohi has not ruled out federal support of the project but says the province has not yet applied for funding.

He said Ottawa will generally look to local governments to set infrastructure priorities.

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