Last weeks City Hall column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Surrey LRT plans scary expensive!
In the iconic movie Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice whispering every time he walks through his corn field: “If you build it, he will come.”
But only in the movies could a farmer plow a cash crop, build a baseball field for ghosts and have everything turn out OK. In reality, while a vision mocked by others can result in great achievements, just as often that vision results in hardship — often financial.
With voters in the region smacking down an increase in the sales tax to fund the Mayors’ Council transportation vision, it’s clear now that there really was no plan B.
Why the Mayors’ Council had no credible back-up plans for funding in a vote that was doomed to fail remains unanswered. In the corporate world, any CEO without a plan B, C and, last resort, D, would be shown the door.
Enter Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who finds herself in the awkward position of having promised to have LRT running in the city by 2018, but has yet to find an economically viable way to do that.
With the city carrying a debt load of approximately $245 million, borrowing to finance a $2-billion-plus project isn’t an option. That has the city grasping at straws to locate funds, and Hepner making headlines again for suggesting she might “take back” the city’s share of gas tax that currently goes directly to TransLink.
Hepner’s lastest suggestion has critics once again raising questions as to whether LRT is really even the best economic or logistical option for rapid transit in Surrey.
In a post yesterday, Daryl Dela Cruz of Better Surrey Rapid Transit, claims that even a public-private partnership deal for LRT would not recover operating costs and require the city to subsidize the line to the tune of $100 million a year.
While Dela Cruz is pushing for SkyTrain, another group called Rail for the Valley has been advocating for years to upgrade the existing interurban rail line that runs from Chilliwack into Surrey — at a fraction of the cost of Hepner’s plan.
Their release of the highly regarded Leewood report in 2010 presented a compelling argument to support the idea, yet remains largely ignored by politicians in favour of plans with more cachet.
The no vote should give Surrey council pause to reflect and re-assess what the city’s actual transit needs are, versus what sounds nice to build — otherwise it’s just another field of dreams with the taxpayers on the hook.