Reaction to bringing an $950-million electric light-rail transit system to the region, while swift, has been mixed.
Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders, for one, said with the region looking down the barrel of a $790-million sewage treatment plant, taking on another multimillion dollar project is asking too much of taxpayers.
“The price tag is absolutely staggering,” Saunders said Wednesday. “Sewage treatment is just under a billion, this is close to a billion. It’s ridiculous to think we can lump all this on citizens without a revolt.”
Saunders criticized BC Transit’s public process of setting out a transit corridor and evaluating technologies without a clear notion of price.
“Transit is getting false information,” he said. “I guarantee if $950 million was set out at the start, politicians and the public would be looking in a different direction.”
Transit is currently paid for by fares, the province, property and fuel taxes and some advertising.
For light rail, Greater Victoria residential property owners would have to pay an additional $130 to $265 in transit taxes per year, depending on how much senior governments chip in for the service.
Business owners, who will pay $386 a year in transit taxes starting in two weeks, would see that climb to between $1,300 and $2,650.
View Royal Mayor Graham Hill suggested that as a first step in alternate transportation, the region should establish intercity rail on the E&N line between Langford and Victoria, and eventually over the Malahat, for a much cheaper price.
“A $1 billion is a massive investment, that is a ton of money,” Hill said. “Asking for $15 million to fix the E&N rail bed would be a significant first step in alternate transportation.
“BC Transit is responding to (traffic) we are seeing on the street. If we have an alternate mode of transportation, arguably the picture will change.”
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins agrees with the sentiment of using the E&N corridor. The selected route from downtown Victoria to Saanich, View Royal, Colwood and Langford leaves Esquimalt out of the light-rail loop.
With 6,000 CFB Esquimalt employees, most of whom live on the West Shore, it makes more sense to prioritize rail along the E&N line, Desjardins said. “The alignment they have chosen is not going to serve the region best,” she said.
Light rail is being touted as the most effective remedy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve transit ridership, reduce roadway congestion, increase property values, generate jobs and provide more cost-savings over the long run.
Also driving the project is a forecasted boom in the West Shore’s population, which is expected to climb to 122,000 by 2038.
“Eventually, to make this successful, people are going to have to get their head around, ‘how do we move people?’” said Langford Mayor Stew Young. “Let’s pick the best way and sometimes the infrastructure has to be put in ahead of time.”
Victoria Coun. John Luton a strong light-rail advocate, said the price is a lot for taxpayers to swallow, which is why provincial and federal funding sources must be secured.
“I think a lot of people can see it’s worth for the long-term investment, but when you put a nearly billion-dollar price tag in front of them, people are going to be concerned,” Luton said.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce is reserving judgement.
“It’s a complex solution. It’s a lot of money,” said chamber CEO Bruce Carter, adding that costs of a regional sewage system must also be considered. “That strain on taxpayers is a significant concern.”
A partial build-out of the line may help, said Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, who favours going out to the 6 Mile/Colwood interchange for $770 million.
“What’s clear here is there is no option to do nothing. There is no cheap way out of this.”
— with files from Edward Hill