Politicans join call for light rail transit in Greater Victoria
By Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist
Standing on a busy downtown sidewalk with transit buses rumbling by, politicians from three levels of government said the time has come for light rail transit in Greater Victoria.
Light rail transit “is the most cost effective form of transportation for our future in the region,” said MP Denise Savoie (NDP-Victoria).
“In public transit’s analysis — by any long shot — LRT trumps the bus rapid transit and that’s important. The economic benefits are clear: $1.4 billion in economic benefits,” she said.
The Victoria Regional Transit Commission, the Capital Regional District and the B.C. Transit Board have all endorsed plans for a $950-million light rail system between Victoria and Langford, but say they need support from senior levels of government.
Savoie said LRT cannot be funded through gas taxes or property taxes alone but senior governments have funds that could be tapped.
“The fact is, the money is there. From a federal perspective, the Building Canada fund has budgeted from 2007 to 2014 $10 billion and we know that one of the sub-funds still has 90 per cent unclaimed. So there’s $1 billion in one of the sub-funds that just hasn’t been touched.”
Savoie was flanked by Randall Garrison (NDP-Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca), New Democrat MLA Rob Fleming (Victoria-Swan Lake), Saanich councillor and CRD director Judy Brownoff, Victoria councillor and Victoria Regional Transit commissioner John Luton and Saanich councillor Dean Murdock.
The group supports the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s call for a third party review of B.C. Transit’s LRT plan. “I don’t know how many people need to be on transit every day in order for that system to be economically viable,” said Chamber CEO Bruce Carter. “I don’t know what that assumption is and what happens if we don’t make it. Those are the types of things we need to understand as well as construction risks.”
Savoie and the others say they are confident any independent analysis would validate the benefits.
“We know other jurisdictions have seen incredible economic growth as a result of rail based systems in their major corridors. We know that it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions considerably and we know it can do a lot to encourage new ridership — in fact double ridership,” said Murdock.
The chamber has endorsed the idea of holding a referendum on LRT — an idea floated by Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard for November’s municipal elections.
But the LRT backers gathered Tuesday were cool to the idea. “I think that would be premature. I don’t think there is a question,” said Fleming. “We have to have further discussions between the three levels of government and cement the partnership further and look at the financing.”
Brownoff, speaking as a CRD representative, said the Douglas Street corridor is plugging up. “Before long the commute time [from the West Shore to downtown Victoria] will be 80 minutes. That’s not sustainable or healthy for this region.”
The LRT proposal is facing opposition from the CRD Business and Residential Taxpayers’ Association. “The LRT will become a yoke around the taxpayer’s neck when costs go over budget, when ridership and revenue do not materialize, when the transit company drops bus routes and cuts service to trim costs and when infrastructure projects are delayed, becoming even more costly,” association chairman Bev Highton has said.