'We all like shiny objects': Metro Van politicians want TransLink upgrades before a train to Seattle

A high-speed train connecting Vancouver to Seattle and Portland is a nice idea — but a secondary priority. 

That was the message from the leaders of Metro Vancouver's Mayors' Council on Tuesday, a day after an extensive business case for the project was released by the Washington state Department of Transportation. 

"I think it's an interesting concept," said Mayors' Council chair and New Wesminster Mayor Jonathan Coté.

"But you know, I think for the short to medium term, we've got a lot of transportation issues right here in Metro Vancouver and we need to keep our eye on the ball in that. We need those investments, and those really need to be, in my opinion, a higher priority at this point in time."

Vice-chair and Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese echoed Coté's comments. 

"We all like shiny objects. And I think it's a great idea," he said. "The regional goals should not be dissuaded by this. It's too important to keep our people moving within the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley."

Cascadia High Speed Rail/TransLink

Plenty of projects in the queue 

The report estimated a high-speed line, with speeds of up to 354 kilometres an hour, would cost between $24 and $42 billion US but did not break down potential cost-sharing possibilities between the various levels of government. 

But TransLink — which is overseen by Metro Vancouver municipalities — is in different stages of planning for a variety of new projects that require billions of dollars in funding from higher levels of government, including:

  • A seven per cent increase in overall bus service, including five new B-Lines.

In addition, it's yet to be determined if a planned SkyTrain extension from Surrey to Langley City can be completed without additional government funding, and the B.C. government recently announced a feasibility study into the creation of a rapid transit link between the North Shore and Vancouver

"I would be really concerned if a high speed train to Seattle took priority over the pent-up demand for quality rapid transit in Metro Vancouver," said Nathan Pachal, a Langley City councillor.  

"If the cost of building high speed rail between Vancouver and Seattle is way more expensive than building out SkyTrain everywhere in Metro Vancouver ... where's the best use? Do we build out our system here at Metro Vancouver first? Or do we build a high speed very fast train to Seattle that only a small fraction of people would use?"

2034 best-case scenario 

The local mayor who showed the most enthusiasm for the plan was Vancouver's Kenney Stewart, who tweeted his support to the mayors of Seattle and Portland, adding "let's make this happen!"

However, a spokesperson for Stewart said on Tuesday that "our transportation priority is the Broadway subway all the way to UBC, but if the federal and provincial governments and the governments in the U.S. want to get together and start to push that forward, he'll be at the table."

When that day might come is still unclear. The report assumes design, engineering and construction would take place between 2027 and 2034 but is contingent on a funding model created in the interim. 

"We're excited to see tangible evidence that the benefits are there. Now, we've got to raise the capital to build it and that's significant as well," said B.C. Premier John Horgan, whose government has provided $600,000 for studies to date. 

"[But] when communities come together and focus on improving the quality of life for people, anything's possible."