Clock ticking on finding matching funds for major B.C. transit projects

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Clock ticking on finding matching funds for major B.C. transit projects

The provincial government is set to sit down with the federal government later this spring to begin negotiations on how both the Surrey LRT and the Broadway extension to the Millennium Line would be paid for.

The federal government is coming to the table with a commitment to cover 40 per cent of the costs associated with building the two lines. 

The challenge now is for the B.C. government and the Metro Vancouver mayors to sort out how to cover the remaining 60 per cent. The province had previously committed to covering 33 per cent of the costs.

Ottawa's hope is negotiations with the province will last no longer than a year, but federal officials say they are willing to be flexible. The money will only be available to regions that can show they are able to match the federal funding. 

The sticking point now is how the rest of the more than $4 billion in transit projects will be funded.

Translink Mayor's Council has asked the provincial government to increase its stake to 40 per cent and match the federal funding. Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner says the municipalities have less options for raising the money. 

"Now, it's a question of, with a provincial election in less than two months, what are the various parties running for provincial government going to do," said Hepner. "I can't think of a better time of how we can be advantaged in terms of how to now match the federal funding."

Estimates based on the federal budget and B.C.'s population indicate TransLink projects could receive up to $2.2 billion in federal funding.

Province focusing on density on transit lines

Light-rail transit in Surrey and extended Skytrain along the Broadway corridor in Vancouver were estimated to cost more than $4 billion when last assessed in 2014. The federal government's commitment indicates the costs are now projected to be higher, considering $2.2 billion would cover 40 per cent of a $5.5 billion budget. 

The idea B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong is now pushing is that municipalities commit to investing in housing along the proposed transit corridors along Broadway in Vancouver and along the proposed LRT route in Surrey.

According to the province, the revenues collected from that density could be allocated to transit.

"It is going to cost some money and it is going to cost local government some money, but I don't know if we have ever been in the position we are today that the support for those transit needs are being pledged to this level by the provincial and federal governments," said de Jong.

NDP in for 40% of funding

If the B.C. NDP were to be elected. it says they would immediately increase the province's share of transit funding, matching the federal government's commitment of 40 per cent funding for both the Broadway line and Surrey's LRT. 

"Christy Clark has left people stuck in gridlock for too long," said NDP Leader John Horgan in a statement. "I'm ready to build transit, create jobs and get people moving. Right away."

"Building our transit system will create 40,000 more jobs, unclog congestion and save people time and money. I want to see people have more time to spend with their kids, with their friends and watching the game, rather than being stuck in gridlock for hours every day."

With files from Jesse Johnston