COLUMN: Funding is key issue

Transportation is the single greatest challenge facing the Metro Vancouver region. The Pattullo Bridge is 70 years old and is in desperate need of replacement. The much-delayed Evergreen line still lacks the financial commitment from senior government required to begin work. We have massive regional inequities in transit service, with the South of the Fraser region having just one-third of the average regional service level. The always-busy Broadway corridor lacks the rapid transit needed to get students to UBC.

We expect 1.3 million more people to call the Lower Mainland home by 2040. By 2030, there will be 600,000 more jobs, and by 2020, container traffic through our Asia/Pacific Gateway will triple. With the traffic congestion and transit crowding we currently are forced to endure, think of what things will be like if we don’t move quickly toward solutions.

If we are serious about making the Lower Mainland both more sustainable and more livable, we need all levels of government and the newly restructured TransLink to work together with a renewed vision and emphasis on transit.

The new governance structure for TransLink came into effect Jan. 1, when the new directors officially begin their terms on the Board of our regional transportation authority.

On Dec. 12, I chaired a meeting of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation where we selected this new Board. We chose nine directors from a list of 15 people put forward by a screening panel headed by former premier Mike Harcourt. These directors bring diverse skill sets and experiences to the table that will be valuable in improving our road and transit system. With an operating budget of over $900 million per year and transportation capital projects of $4 billion underway, TransLink is a large organization. While this new structure is by no means perfect, it is important for the Mayor’s Council and the Board of Directors to see how we can make it work.

The Mayors of the region want TransLink to consult with the public and stakeholders, and develop a 10-year transportation plan that delivers what Metro Vancouver really needs, not simply what can be accomplished with inadequate funding. The plan must address not only what we need right now but also shape a vision for how we will grow in the future.

The key issue is adequate funding. Our view on the Mayors’ Council is that the contribution from taxpayers and transit users across the region has to be balanced with substantial provincial and federal support.

For months, the provincial government has been developing its transportation vision for Metro Vancouver, and that vision will undoubtedly address their economic and environmental objectives, supported by a financial plan. Through the province we can access increased federal funding via a number of national infrastructure and transit programs.

As members of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, our focus will be to see a comprehensive and integrated program that improves our road and transit network and supports Metro Vancouver’s sustainable growth and development. We will work in partnership with senior governments, whose objectives and resources complement ours, and we intend to work in concert with the new TransLink Board to develop and deliver the transportation network our region needs.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is chair of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.

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