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Extra two cent gas tax hike to fund Evergreen Line

Artist rendering of Coquitlam Central Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension. - Ministry of Transportation
Artist rendering of Coquitlam Central Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension.
— image credit: Ministry of Transportation

Call it the two-cent solution.

That's how much extra Metro Vancouver motorists will pay for a litre of gas at the pumps to help fund TransLink's commitment to build the $1.4-billion Evergreen Line to Coquitlam.

"Two cents per litre from gas taxes is how we think our contribution should be made," West Vancouver Mayor and mayors council vice-chair Pamela Goldsmith-Jones said Wednesday.

The proposed measure – increasing the gas tax take for TransLink from a current 15 cents to 17 cents effective next April – has the agreement of the provincial government, with transportation minister Blair Lekstrom pledging to introduce legislation this fall.

The extra two cents would generate about $40 million more in revenue each year, much of what TransLink needs to cover the annual borrowing cost of its $400-million capital contribution.

But TransLink will need more.

Goldsmith-Jones said mayors also expect to approve an annual vehicle levy that could vary – possibly based on a vehicle's carbon footprint – between $10 and $40 per vehicle per year.

The two-cent gas tax, vehicle levy (called a Transportation Improvement Fee) and a potential small property tax hike need to generated a combined $70 million a year to cover TransLink's planned spending supplement.

It includes not just the 11-kilometre Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension but also a broader package of upgrades intended to give something to all parts of the region.

It includes:

- RapidBus improvements south of the Fraser to create a new B-Line express from Surrey's SkyTrain hub to Guildford and to White Rock via King George Boulevard and Highway 1 RapidBus improvements from Langley to Lougheed Station.

- More frequent SeaBus sailings of every 15 minutes all day, plus three-vessel service allowing sailings every 10 minutes for special events

- SkyTrain and SeaBus station upgrades to key transit hubs such as Main Street, Metrotown, Surrey Central, New Westminster and Lonsdale Quay.

- $20 million a year for road work and $6 million a year for cycling projects.

- Other conventional bus improvements adding new routes, more frequent service and more capacity, including a promised new route from White Rock to Langley via Grandview Heights. The extra service would address congestion and accomodate population growth and the expanded U-Pass system.

Goldsmith-Jones could not say how soon work could begin on the Evergreen Line, which has been stalled for months since mayors last fall rejected a TransLink proposal to pay for the contribution solely through property taxes.

Lekstrom last month said the province will move quickly to issue a request for proposals to the three pre-qualified bidders for the project once the mayors commit to a funding source.

The mayors' agreement with the province requires a $23 increase in property tax for the average Metro Vancouver home if the vehicle levy is not approved in addition to the gas tax hike.

Mayors would still prefer to avoid any property tax increase, Goldsmith-Jones said, adding they feel it's appropriate to use mechanisms that can steer motorists from using the roads to transit or other alternatives.

"The mayors are committed to penalizing or incentivizing based on what makes sense," she said, calling further property tax hikes regressive.

The planned "Moving Forward" supplement, which would go out to public consultation as early as next week, is only the short-term package of transit upgrades and accompanying fee increases.

Mayors also intend to work quickly to hammer out a long-term funding strategy to pay for bigger projects in the future, such as rapid transit extensions in the Surrey area and along Vancouver's Broadway corridor to UBC.

Road pricing (a regional tolling scheme that would apply to not just bridges but other key arteries) and a possible regional carbon tax lead the mayors' list of how they want to raise the billions of dollars more in capital funding required to pay for those longer-range priorities.

Goldsmith-Jones said the mayors council could be prepared to take that funding formula public for consultation as early as September.

Ottawa's $417-million commitment to the Evergreen Line remains on the table and will be there when required, federal transportation minister Denis Lebel promised at a stop in Surrey Monday.

The province has pledged $400 million but Lekstrom has indicated that could rise to cover any shortfall – mayors won't be asked for more.

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said he's hopeful the proposed agreement with Victoria will work, but said the BC Liberals must quickly recall the legislature to approve the gas tax increase before going to the polls in a possible fall election.

"If they are serious about this and want to make believers out of a lot of people, they have to recall the house and pass this two cents a litre," he said.

"Otherwise it can be interpreted as a pre-election ploy."

Fuel taxes throughout B.C. rose just over one cent a litre July 1 as part of the next increment of the provincial carbon tax.

By 2013, Metro Vancouverites will also be facing tolls to cross the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge, which will be the second tolled crossing in the region after the Golden Ears Bridge. An eventual replacement for the Pattullo Bridge could be tolled as well.

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