COLUMN: Expect transportation to be a focal point

COLUMN: Expect transportation to be a focal point

Deas Island bridge unlikely to proceed, once provincial NDP/Greens take charge

None of us have any idea of when the NDP will form a minority government in Victoria, but the agreement signed last week by NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver indicates it will happen.

That means significant changes in the transportation realm, one of the hot-button issues that attracted votes May 9 in Surrey and Delta. The NDP was the prime beneficiary, going from three seats in Surrey to seven representing Surrey and Delta in the legislature. This compares to four BC Liberals.

The agreement signed by Horgan and Weaver basically endorses the Mayors’ Council position on transportation, which calls for substantial spending on new rapid-transit lines, more buses and replacement of the Pattullo Bridge. Given that TransLink has limited ability to raise capital, the mayors also want access to more funding from the province.

They have long called for a share of carbon-tax revenues, and the NDP-Green agreement calls for that tax to rise annually. This could mean substantial funds for transportation, should the government agree.

Federal funds have already assured the first phase of the Surrey LRT project between Newton and Guildford has the green light. If the province moves quickly, it could mean the second Surrey rapid transit line down Fraser Highway – whether it be SkyTrain or LRT – will be sooner than projected.

The Green Party opposed the BC Liberal and NDP plans to, respectively, reduce or eliminate bridge tolls. However, Horgan said after the agreement was signed that tolls will be eliminated in the first NDP budget, and the three Green MLAs have pledged to support the budget.

The elimination of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be welcome news for South Fraser residents. It will bring back more normal traffic flows, which will hopefully ease some of the pressure on the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges, and it will leave more money in the pockets of people who could use it.

The new tolling policy raises interesting questions about the new Pattullo Bridge. It is supposed to be a toll bridge, as TransLink has no ability to pay for it otherwise (as was the case with Golden Ears). Will the province assume existing capital obligations on Golden Ears and future capital obligations for the new Pattullo? Will it take over the two bridges? Or will road pricing and additional revenue sources, perhaps from the carbon tax, pay for the bridges?

One planned transportation improvement likely will not go ahead, at least not in the near future. It is likely that work will be stopped on the planned Deas Island bridge, which was to replace the Massey Tunnel. Virtually every mayor in the region, with the notable exception of Delta’s Lois Jackson, has opposed the planned toll bridge, saying it is out of line with regional growth and transportation plans.

The NDP government will likely pull the plug, and the Greens will concur wholeheartedly. While work has started, it is of a preliminary nature, and doing so likely won’t cost taxpayers much at this stage.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.