Minister Stone on Investment in Metro Vancouver’s Transportation System

On April 2, Minister Stone answered a number of questions relating to investment in Metro Vancouver’s transportation system. The questions were asked by the opposition during consideration of estimates for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (the budget for ministry operations).

A transcript of the proceedings is available here. The relevant portion begins at 5:10 pm and continues for just over an hour. Anyone with a keen interest can watch a video of the proceedings, but be warned, there are long pauses between the  questions and the answers while the Minister consults with staff.

Although the Minister said nothing particularly new, he did confirm and clarify several things. The following is a summary of some of his responses together with extracts from the transcript.

Pattullo Bridge

The Minister made the following points regarding the Pattullo Bridge:

  • It is critical from a safety perspective that the bridge be replaced.
  • The province’s commitment to pay one-third of the cost of a new bridge is subject to there being a solid business case for the bridge (standard practice for every project in which the province invests).
  • The project must fit within the provincial capital plan. That has mostly to do with timing and is a question of priorities. The province has strict targets with respect to debt-to-GDP ratios and so forth.
  • The province’s cost-sharing commitment is contingent upon New Westminster investing in its road network to facilitate any replacement and expansion of the bridge so that there is no gridlock.
  • The cost-sharing commitment is not contingent on the number of lanes on the new bridge.
  • A new bridge potentially could be tolled. The decision is up to TransLink and the Mayors’ Council. (The Minister added that the new George Massey crossing might be tolled and observed that this could be an opportunity to review and update the provincial tolling policy. It’s unclear whether he is saying that a new Pattullo Bridge can be tolled only if the province changes its tolling policy.)

The Minister also said:

Certainly, part of why we put the commitment to one-third of the capital out on the table, along with the similar commitment on transit projects, was to signal to the mayors that they might want to include a replacement of the Pattullo Bridge as part of the plan that would ultimately go to the people of the region in the referendum that would be held on the expansion of transit and transportation in the region.

Funding Sources

The Minister confirmed that the province has not ruled out any funding sources. The discussion with the Mayors’ Council on funding is being kept wide open.

He added: “We’re prepared to sit down and talk to the mayors about those funding levers. Ultimately, they need to develop the plan. They are developing the plan. The plan will have a total cost, and they are going to come forward and suggest funding sources for that plan.”

The Minister was asked to clarify the following statement from his February 6 letter to the Mayors’ Council: “The provincial government will not permit new funding to be collected from the provincial transportation system situated in the region.”

In response, the Minister said:

I think the best way for me to explain that would be this. We wanted to be very clear with the Mayors Council that, certainly, with respect to provincial infrastructure — whether it’s the Iron Workers Bridge, the Lions Gate Bridge, the Trans-Canada Highway — this is infrastructure that the province has paid for, that the province expends dollars on each and every year to maintain. In the case of the Port Mann Bridge, which now has a toll on it, there’s obviously a revenue source there.

The signal that I wanted to send through that statement to the Mayors Council is that in the context of future discussions around funding sources for an expansion of transit and transportation, the province is going to protect its revenue sources. The province is going to need to ensure that if, for example, road pricing is to be considered, either solely or as a package of funding levers, and if it’s to apply to provincial infrastructure, there’s a piece of that that’s going to have to be considered, and that is the revenue that’s generated and the debt obligations that exist on the Port Mann Bridge.

The Minister seems to be saying something different from what was in his letter. It now appears that the province just wants to protect the amount of revenue it receives from provincial infrastructure.

Referenda for Other Transportation Projects

Question: “Does the minister intend to apply the referendum requirement for TransLink to any other form of transportation funding or infrastructure anywhere else in the province? If the answer to that is no, what is the rationale for that?”

Minister:

The answer to that is no. I’m not contemplating that. The reason that we’re doing it in the context of the TransLink expansion plan is, quite simply, because this was a very specific commitment that we made in the last provincial election and that we campaigned on. We were elected, and we intend on fulfilling that commitment. Certainly, I absolutely understand that the mayors continue to this day to say to they don’t like the idea. That is their choice. But we campaigned on it, we were elected, and we’re going to fulfil that commitment.

Commitment to Fund One-Third of Major Capital Projects

The Minister was asked whether other provincial priorities could bump the province’s commitment to fund one-third of major capital projects, whether there are any strings attached to the commitment, and whether there is a limit on the amounts the province will contribute.

Minister:

If the Mayors Council is to include these major rapid transit projects — whether it’s some form of LRT in Surrey, whether it’s something down the Broadway line in Vancouver — and if they decide to move forward with the inclusion of a Pattullo replacement in the plan that they’re working on, if that plan were to be put to the voters in a referendum in the Lower Mainland and endorsed by the voters, passed, then the province will stand behind its commitment on those one-third capital commitments.

Federal Cost-Sharing

The Minister was asked whether the need to hold a referendum and the consequent delay in starting capital projects puts any federal funding at risk.

Minister:

Frankly, from the perspective of the member’s question around whether we have any concerns around timing of a referendum possibly resulting in losing out on some funding opportunities through the new Build Canada fund, I believe that the simple answer to that is no, I’m not overly concerned.

The Minister added that the province has already talked to federal officials about transit projects in the Lower Mainland, including the Pattullo Bridge.

Land Value Capture

The Minister stated that the province is willing, from a longer-term perspective, to engage in discussion around land value capture. The questions are how to get there, and how fast is this possible.

In answer to further questions, the Minister said:

Again, I come back to the plan that the Mayors Council is working on towards the June 30 deadline. Concurrent with the development of the plan is a discussion related to funding, and land value capture is one potential funding source that I think we have been very clear we can support in principle. I look forward to talking through the details of what that could mean in practical terms with the Mayors Council.

The Minister has clearly backed off a condition previously imposed by the provincial government, that new funding tools must “capture for TransLink a share of the benefits that arise from the substantial investments in Metro Vancouver’s transportation system”.

SeaBus

In response to a question about the status of the third SeaBus announced in 2008 by the province and TransLink, the Minister said: “It will be up to the mayors to determine whether or not that is a priority they want to include in their plan and put forward in the referendum for the voters to approve or not.”

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