Trudeau announces $58M for Surrey LRT line but funding questions loom

$58M allocated to planning and “pre-construction” work for Surrey light rail to keep it on track for ground-breaking within 18 months.

Mayor Linda Hepner and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a meeting at Surrey City Hall earlier this year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Metro Vancouver Thursday to announce a $616 million commitment to the Mayors’ Council 10-year plan for public transit.

Of that, $370 million comes from the feds and the remaining $246 from the provincial government. TransLink is contributing another $125, bringing the capital funding to $740 million.

A total of $58 million has been allocated to the South of Fraser light rail transit project to keep it on track for ground-breaking within 18 months.

Of that, $20 million is for planning and design, $17 million for new bus exchanges at Newton and Guildford in preparation for the new line and $21 million for road improvements.

Actual construction of the new rapid transit line will not be confirmed until a second phase of federal grants roll out.

And that’s the missing puzzle piece, according to transit advocate Darly Dela Cruz of SkyTrain for Surrey.

“The release of the business cases is the big news we’re waiting for,” said Dela Cruz, who believes TransLink is still considering SkyTrain. “It’s the final barrier to moving forward with rapid transit South of the Fraser…. so much of our transit future – including Phase 2 funding – is hanging on it.

“None of the listed South of the Fraser investments lock onto LRT as the choice for investment,” he added. “At most there is the $20 million for procurement and design work, but that could go in any direction.”

Aside from those dollars, another $94 million will go toward upgrading transit exchanges throughout the region, including Guildford and Newton.

Dela Cruz said there’s nothing “conclusive” from the announcement except that there will be new bus exchanges and road improvements that could possibly benefit the 96 B-Line.

But Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner is pleased with the announcement.

“I applaud the Prime Minister’s leadership in building better transit,” she said in a release. “After years of talking about the need for modernized and new transit service, with this Phase 1 funding, we are finally shifting into action.”

Hepner added: “As we move forward, we will need to continue to work diligently with all our partners to ensure that the remaining projects in our vision stay on track.”

Meanwhile, the bulk of the capital funding, $345 million, will go to upgrading and expanding 28 SkyTrain, 22 Canada Line and five West Coast Express cars. Those dollars will also be used to overhaul stations along the Expo and Canada lines.

REGIONAL SHARE REVENUE SOURCE STILL UNKNOWN

Despite official sign-off on the federal half and the province’s one-third shares of the capital costs, Metro Vancouver mayors and the province have yet to iron out their differences over how the region should generate its 17 per cent share.

Mayors last month pressed the province to agree to either a new funding source, such as a vehicle levy, or dedicate $50 million a year from an existing one, such as the carbon tax.

They insist they want the remainder financed without subjecting the plan to the uncertainty of another referendum, like the one that defeated the proposed regional 0.5 per cent sales tax last summer and continued a years-long impasse over transit expansion.

While the mayors have previously resisted any voluntary increase in TransLink property taxes, they gave ground on that point when they tabled their funding proposal last month.

It would accelerate TransLink property tax increases to an automatic three per cent a year from the two per cent currently set in provincial legislation.

-with files from Jeff Nagel

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