Greater Victoria leaders from three government levels are not only calling on the federal government to help fund light rail in the region, they say the money is readily accessible.
“They have to play their part,” Victoria MP Denise Savoie said at a press conference Tuesday at the busy corner of Douglas and Fort streets, where vehicles and public transit buses roared by throughout the morning. “The fact is the money is there.”
Federal funding sources that could be tapped include the Building Canada Plan, which has $10 billion budgeted for sustainable infrastructure upgrades – such as for transit projects – across the country until 2014, Savoie said.
“As desirable as LRT is, it has to be affordable for this region. It can’t be paid from taxpayer, property taxes or gas taxes alone,” Savoie said, flanked by several federal, provincial, regional and municipal politicians, including Victoria Coun. John Luton with the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, Saanich South provincial MLA Lana Popham and Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, as well as student, business and community group leaders.
There are numerous benefits to the $950-million LRT line shuttling passengers between downtown Victoria and Langford, such as addressing congestion, creating long-term jobs and generating an estimated $1.4 billion in economic spinoffs, Savoie said.
Those advantages are partly why the group say they welcome the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s call in June to put B.C. Transit’s LRT plan through a third-party cost-benefit analysis.
“I”m personally quite confident it’ll show that the benefits far outwiegh the costs,” said Randall Garrison, MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, adding that federal and provincial support would significantly reduce the burden on taxpayers.
“We need to get all three levels of government to the table and then we’ll know what the local costs would end up being,” Garrison said.
While the third-party review is a good idea, the chamber’s idea to hold a region-wide referendum in November to ask voters about light rail is premature, said Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake.
“I don’t think there is a question,” he said, adding more discussion is needed among the three government levels.
The need for a solution to the region’s transit woes is deepening, said Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff, a director of the Capital Regional District, which has data indicating the commute time will soon reach 80 minutes between the West Shore and Victoria.
“That’s not sustainable or healthy for this region,” Brownoff said.
A partial business case for the LRT project is now with B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Meetings have been planned for September to develop a task force to identify local funding sources to pay for the system, jointly led by B.C. Transit and the CRD.