Editorial — The missing billions
Last week, a few billion dollars were thrown around by TransLink, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and others, in proposals for new rapid transit lines.
Robertson doesn’t want to settle for $1.1 billion to extend rapid transit to UBC — he wants $3 billion to have an underground subway all the way along the busy Broadway corridor to a university that, for at least four months of the year, has few people on campus.
TransLink doesn’t agree with Surrey’s idea of a light rail or rapid bus system along King George and Fraser Highways in Surrey (with the Fraser Highway line extending to Langley City). It wants SkyTrain, at a cost of $2.2 billion.
Is it permissible to ask at least one question? Where exactly are all these billions going to come from?
The federal government, which has contributed some funds to the building of transit lines in the past, is running a deficit. The Canadian economy, while not weak, isn’t exactly robust. Commodities, which have been responsible for much of Canada’s economic performance in the past, are weaker than they have been, and Alberta oil is having a tough time making its way to market.
The provincial government claims it has a balanced budget but only by selling properties. It clearly has little extra money at present.
As for TransLink, it can’t even afford to run the buses across the Port Mann Bridge at the level of service promised, let alone pay for any rapid transit expansion. It has proposed many new taxes, but all are opposed to a greater or lesser degree by overtaxed residents.
Local governments won’t be putting money towards these rapid transit lines. Nor will developers pay large sums to expedite them, given a softening real estate market.
Let’s put all these billions in context. At this point in time, there is no money to build any of these transit projects. Planning is great, but until there is a far better way for TransLink to raise money for capital projects, it is highly unlikely it will be taking part in any expansion of rapid transit in the Lower Mainland.
Let’s remember just how difficult it was to nail down a way to raise funds to build a modest rapid transit extension to Coquitlam and Port Moody. It’s why we are paying 17 cents a litre in gas tax to TransLink.
It’s easy to talk about billions of dollars. It’s much harder to find them.