Last week, word came down that the proposal to add 0.5 per cent to the provincial sales tax to pay for an ambitious program of transportation expansion was handily defeated.
Surrey voters voted 66 per cent against the plan. Delta voters were against it by a 68-32 per cent margin, while 59 per cent of White Rock voters said “no.”
What does this mean for the projects which most benefit Surrey?
The Pattullo Bridge replacement project will still go ahead. Even supporters of the added tax acknowledged this during the campaign. TransLink’s portion of the cost of the new bridge will be funded by tolls, so the sales tax revenue plan really didn’t affect it.
The bigger question on the Pattullo should be this – why spend more than $100 million to patch up the bridge to keep it open for a few more years? TransLink announced just before the final day of handing in plebiscite ballots that the bridge would be closed to all but light vehicle traffic for close to two years to get the patchwork done and would be closed every evening and weekend.
It would be far better to use the money earmarked for that project as a down payment on the new bridge, and get to work on it right away. Most drivers who now use the bridge would likely put up with a permanent closure if it meant a new bridge would be available to them sooner.
The LRT lines in Surrey will also likely be built, according to Mayor Linda Hepner. She said private-sector partners are ready and willing to invest in the projects. She made that statement the day the plebiscite results were announced.
Hepner said partners could build, maintain and operate the line. This is what happened with the Canada Line, so it is not without precedent.
Federal and provincial money is available for the LRT lines, so the partner(s) would have to come up with one-third of the capital costs. The first line would run from Newton to Guildford via King George Boulevard and 104 Avenue. Hepner promised in the November election that it would be ready by 2018.
The more ambitious line along Fraser Highway, which is controversial as it would mean hundreds of trees in the Green Timbers urban forest would be cut down, is the second phase of the LRT project. It was set for completion in about 10 years, according to the mayors’ plan.
Whether this project would go ahead in its current proposed form is debatable. For one thing, it would offer an absolute minimum of travel time savings over rapid buses. Given the distance involved, it seems that it would be better to invest in buses for the foreseeable future on that busy corridor.
Green Timbers may also prove a more formidable object than Surrey council thinks. The forest was protected by a referendum vote by citizens in 1988, and any planned encroachments on it could lead to legal challenges. While Surrey officials claim that only trees which are not protected within the urban forest would be chopped down, that claim seems a bit too convenient.
The LRT line from King George Station to Langley City would also be very expensive, and in some rural areas, there would be no passenger traffic. From a private sector perspective, it may not be viable east of 168 Street.
The one part of the mayors’ transit plan which is least likely to go ahead now is expansion of the bus fleet.
Additional buses and more routes had been promised if the sales tax plan was approved, but it will be hard for TransLink to set up new routes or offer more service given its current financial constraints.
Once again, those who depend on the bus system have been left out in the cold.
Frank Bucholtz is the recently retired editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.