Capital Regional District chief administrative officer Robert Lapham and Saanich Coun.  Susan Brice

Capital Regional District chief administrative officer Robert Lapham and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice

Langford rejects regional transportation service

Council sees CRD plan as duplicating city services

Langford council has voted against throwing their support behind the Capital Regional District’s new regional transportation service.

“There’s a concern for duplication here,” said Mayor Stew Young at Monday’s meeting. “I think it really needs to be defined a little better … Maybe we need to be a sub-regional (service). I’m more inclined to support that.”

The new proposed service would provide the CRD with a mandate to address regional transportation needs to the extent outlined in their regional transportation plan. That document was developed after consultation with local governments, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, B.C. Transit and other stakeholders back in 2014 and identifies priority actions and targets across the region. The CRD’s transportation select committee was tasked with finding the best way to deliver results from that plan and the new service was identified as the best avenue to achieve that.

While council had voted earlier this month against supporting the new CRD service, they tabled that motion until Susan Brice, chair of the CRD transportation select committee, could meet with council to discuss their concerns and answer any questions in person.

Brice, accompanied by CRD chief administrative officer Robert Lapham, appeared before council Monday to explain more about the new service. “The big hurdle is that none of us, at the municipal level or the CRD level, are keen to be kick-starting something new that starts off small and gets big and expensive,” she said.

She reiterated the roughly $1.5 million start-up costs for this new service would be pulled from existing budgets and staff within the CRD.

Lapham expanded on what the service would entail. “What we’re doing right now is proposing to realign the work we do now.” He noted the CRD’s parks department works with the region’s trail systems and the planning department handles traffic-related issues. By aligning these services into one function, he added, they could be done in a more direct format and information collected could be used to gain provincial or federal funding for priority projects.

Coun. Lillian Szpak weighed in once Brice and Lapham opened their presentation to questions. “I can really see the benefit in having a regional transportation plan,” Szpak said.

She nodded to the E&N rail corridor as an area on which the region could focus their efforts in creating a transportation corridor and an effective way to move people – whether by train, bus or another form of transport.

Brice noted there is potential for a sub-regional service to explore options for that corridor.

Coun. Denise Blackwell asked if the new service and the Greater Victoria Transit Commission, which oversees B.C. Transit in the region, would link up.

“This service would allow, down the road, the option … but it doesn’t trigger that,” explained Brice.

Young brought the conversation back to the startup costs and shifting CRD staff. “Are these positions that are going to be eliminated now … How are we doing this?” he asked.

Brice reiterated a need to expand trail networks across the region to get commuters out of their cars and into other modes of transportation.

While Young said expanding trail networks was a good idea, he noted Langford’s number one priority is addressing congestion on the Trans-Canada Highway during peak travel times.

“I don’t really want to get into what’s happening between North Saanich and Sidney … I don’t see it as something that our taxpayers need to pay to fix,” he said.

Municipal engineers already meet with each other throughout the year to work on regional transportation problems, he said, suggesting that area could be enhanced instead of starting a new service.

Young reiterated issues with the TCH should be the region’s top priority but he didn’t see the CRD helping with that, since the TCH is the province’s jurisdiction.

Szpak added the new service would act as more of a unified voice to do just that when representatives lobby for funding from the province.

Later in the meeting after Brice and Lapham had concluded their presentation and left, council returned to the topic to debate whether they should support the new service.

“My biggest concern is when you get in on a service you can’t get out,” said Coun. Lanny Seaton.

In the end, council agreed they couldn’t support the service with so many unknowns and voted nearly unanimously – Szpak cast the only vote in favour – to withhold their support.