Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner calls new transit funding plan an ‘unprecedented opportunity’

Proposed jump in TransLink’s property tax that would translate to an extra $3 for the average homeowner for each year of the 10-year plan

Toronto city planner Jennifer Keesmaat

SURREY — Although a new plan to pay for transit involves raising taxes, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner told the Now it is “an unprecedented opportunity.”

On Friday, the Mayors’ Council gave a tentative green light to funding sources for its share of a 10-year transportation plan.

One source is a proposed jump in TransLink’s property tax that would translate to an extra $3 for the average homeowner for each year of the 10-year plan.

If approved, the sources would take advantage of federal and provincial contributions while injecting more money to quickly boost transit service by 10 per cent region-wide.

Hepner acknowledged the region’s mayors have been hesitant in the past to raise property taxes to pay for the plan but said, “I applaud their courage to move us forward. I think that’s what the public expects.

“I’m not so entrenched as to not move off the mark for $3 a household in order to get us past where we need to go,” she added.

Several other mayors agreed, saying the federal government’s offer of 50 per cent contributions to phase one capital projects – worth $370 million – was too generous to risk losing.

Other proposed funding sources for the regions’ share are a development cost charge, a transit fare increase, with another $125 million would come from selling existing TransLink property.

The $2-billion phase-one plan still must go out to public consultations in October and get final approval in another vote of the mayors council in November.

If it stays on track, SkyTrain and bus service could be boosted in early 2017, while orders go in for 50 new SkyTrain or Canada Line cars, five more West Coast Express train cars and a new SeaBus.

Hepner told the Now that 29 per cent of all the increases in phase one are for Surrey.

Phase one provides for detailed design of the new Broadway subway and Surrey-area rapid transit extension, but construction would wait on a second-phase plan.

Though Hepner committed to operational light rail in Surrey in 2018 during her election campaign, she now expects a procurement document for Surrey’s LRT line to be done in 2017, and for construction to begin in 2018.

 

LRT speech cost $5K

In other LRT news, Toronto city planner Jennifer Keesmaat was in Surrey last week to give a free public lecture on her city’s experience with light rail. She also spoke at a mayor’s breakfast and a noon-hour talk for city staff.

Toronto is in the midst of building its multi-billion Eglinton LRT line and the city says her work will “help inform” Surrey’s LRT vision.

Surrey’s rapid transit manager Paul Lee said she was invited because Toronto’s project is similar to Surrey’s and they have turned it into not just a transportation project, but a community building project.

“They took an interesting approach. They said, ‘OK we’re going to move people but also this is a huge opportunity to shape the corridor and around it into something that’s sustainable, pedestrian and bike-friendly,’” explained Lee. “You need to use the light rail project to open up opportunities. To build communities. For placemaking. This is something that will stay with us forever.”

The City of Surrey paid Keesmaat a $5,000 honorarium for her three-day visit, said Lee, $2,000 of which was covered by the Downtown Surrey BIA. Keesmaat paid for her own travel expenses, Lee added.

Keesmaat’s forum had its critics.

The SkyTrain for Surrey group says the lecture didn’t address all the issues.

“‘Growth shaping should come second to making sure there’s actually transit improvement when there’s an investment of taxpayer dollars,” said Daryl Dela Cruz, the group’s founder.

With files from Jeff Nagel

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