Transportation Minister Todd Stone seems to gradually be opening his eyes to the serious challenge that transportation is to B.C.’s economic future.
The minister, a rookie MLA elected in Kamloops in May, spent some time touring the transit system on Tuesday. He has been in regular contact with TransLink officials, as well as North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton, chair of the mayors’ council – which has a vote, but not much of a voice, on TransLink.
Transportation issues, particularly transit, are key to the future well being of Surrey and other South Fraser municipalities. Two major bridges have been built and a third is planned. The South Fraser Perimeter Road is close to completion. At the same time, there has been minimal improvement in transit.
Bridges and roads are important, not just to transport people, but also goods. Transit can serve to ease the pressure on new infrastructure and get people where they need to go.
The Pattullo Bridge is the most obvious example of the complexity of transportation problems. It is no longer a factor in transit, as riders crossing the river use SkyTrain, but as a direct result of the province’s tolling policies, which Stone still defends, it has become much more congested with large transport trucks this year.
New Westminster has the statistics to prove that more trucks are using the bridge, largely to escape the tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge. The aging bridge is in no shape to handle an increase in truck traffic, and it could be argued that excessive truck use will further damage it. A complete ban on trucks may be necessary, given the state of the bridge.
Yet TransLink, the owner of the bridge, is planning to set aside up to $300 million for repairs and maintenance of the bridge. This makes no sense. That money could serve as a significant down payment on a new bridge, which is overdue. At the same time, that $300 million is money taken away from expanding transit routes in Surrey.
Surrey has seen no expansion of the rapid transit system since 1994, when the extension of SkyTrain to Whalley was completed. The population at that time was less than 300,000.
While the population has grown, there has been some modest expansion of bus routes. However, most people in Surrey do not use transit because it is so unreliable.
This is particularly true in neighbourhoods in Cloverdale and South Surrey, where there are few bus routes and little in the way of new service.
When the Port Mann Bridge was announced, there was a pledge that Surrey residents would be able to avoid paying tolls by using a rapid bus to get across the bridge to SkyTrain. A rapid bus has been established from Langley. While it is popular, it does not stop in Surrey. A park-and-ride lot near the 200 Street overpass is full or close to full on most weekdays.
But no such service exists in Surrey. There is no good reason for this, and this is a broken promise of the B.C. Liberal government.
The province will not grow economically and gain tax revenue if the transportation system continues to be dealt with on a piecemeal basis. LNG plants are great, but government also needs to take a cohesive approach to dealing with transportation issues. Let’s see what Stone has to say in the coming weeks.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.