TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond, centre, speaks about the $7.3 billion phase two investment plan in New Westminster on Monday. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

TransLink defends huge spike in cost of SkyTrain, light-rail projects

CEO Kevin Desmond points to long delays and inflation

It will cost taxpayers $7.3 billion to roll out the second phase of Metro Vancouver mayors 10-year transportation vision, TransLink executives announced Monday.

That includes $1.3 billion in Expo and Millennium SkyTrain line upgrades, $2.83 billion for the new Millennium Line Broadway extension in Vancouver and $1.65 billion for the first phase of Surrey light rail.

What it won’t include is the Pattullo Bridge replacement across the Fraser River, which the province announced it was taking over from TransLink earlier this year.

The Broadway extension is expected to be up and running by 2025 and light rail is expected to be up and running by 2024. An extra $30 million is being set aside to begin pre-design work on the Surrey-to-Langley light rail line, although CEO Kevin Desmond declined to provide a construction cost estimate.

The two projects combined have gone up nearly $1 billion since the last time costs were updated in 2015.

The public will have two weeks to weigh in. The public consultation that TransLink launched today on the $7.3-billion plan will be over by May 11, and both the Mayors’ Council and TransLink’s board are scheduled to approve the investment plan in June.

Costs for the Millennium Line went up by 24 per cent ($550 million) and costs for Surrey light rail are up by 33 per cent ($410 million), according to Desmond. The two projects are estimated to cost $4.48 billion, compared to both phases of light rail and the Broadway extension being estimated at $4.81 billion in 2015.

Desmond blamed “considerable inflation,” skyrocketing property values and a weak Canadian dollar for the cost overruns.

“These [new] estimates are the result of two years of very, very rigorous work – engineering, public consultations, peer reviews – to ensure that these costs at reasonable to take to the next phase of the program,” said Desmond, noting that costs will only continue to rise if delays continue.

“This region needs to hurry up and get on building these projects,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.”

However, Desmond denied that phase two would continue to see ever-escalating costs as the projects moved towards completion.

In 2015, Metro Vancouver residents voted no to an extra 0.5 per cent sales tax to fund transit improvements of about $8 billion over 10 year, which included the $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge that TransLink no longer owns.

Phase two alone of the 10-year-vision will now cost taxpayers $7.3 billion, split three ways between the feds, the province and the region.

The Mayors’ Council increased parking, transit fares and property taxes to come up with $70 million annually to fill in the shortfall in its phase two funding.

Ottawa has confirmed it will contribute $2.2 billion over 10 years to TransLink’s plans and about $2 billion of that will be used for phase two.

Desmond defended the increased cost by pointing out that the region’s taxpayers will pay less than they expected to in 2015, although the region’s cost are still being defrayed by federal and provincial tax dollars.

At the time of the plebiscite, the federal and provincial government had pledged to cover 48 per cent of the capital costs for the entire 10-year-vision, compared to 68 per cent today.

The plan also includes $495 million for more rapid transit service and $890 million for bus service upgrades, including two Surrey and Richmond B-Lines and an expansion of bus service out to 68 Ave and eastern Fraser Heights in Surrey.

READ: TransLink to roll out four B-Lines as ‘prelude to rail’ by 2019

The money will pay for an eight-per-cent increase in bus service, seven-per-cent increase in HandyDart and more than 150 new buses.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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