Editorial: Transportation is key for Island
June 13, 2017 12:08 AM
Islanders have become used to suggestions that we’ve paid a price for not having more MLAs sitting on the government side of the legislature. Now, as we move into a minority government balanced on a knife edge, the people of this region can demand all three parties move beyond the rhetoric and address our concerns.
And transportation should be a key area of investment.
Here are four transportation issues that should be priorities for the next government — whichever party forms it.
First, a serious review and action on the future of the E&N rail line. Passenger service stopped on the line in 2011, and there has been no progress on restoring it. The B.C. Liberals announced a working group to look at commuter rail in March, a move that was rightly criticized as an election ploy.
The rail corridor — a public asset worth $360 million — is in limbo, scarcely used. The Island Corridor Foundation, charged with its management, has no credible plan for the future. It’s time for provincial government leadership in developing a plan for rail service or coming up with different uses for the corridor.
Second, the new government should move quickly to establish a regional transportation authority for the capital region, responsible for transit and road planning. The current situation, with 13 municipalities developing their own plans, and transit planning split from road infrastructure decisions, is ludicrous.
Its ineffectiveness is highlighted by the steadily worsening gridlock, with accompanying environmental, economic and social costs. It’s more than a decade since B.C. Transit announced funding for dedicated bus lanes on Douglas Street between downtown and Saanich Road, for example. They still aren’t in place.
Third, a review of the government’s approach to B.C. Ferries, which has damaged Vancouver Island’s economy. Since 2008, fares on the main routes have increased three times as much as the overall cost of living in B.C., hurting tourism, businesses and communities. Adding insult to injury, the government’s inland ferries are free, while B.C. Ferries fares have soared. The new government should commit to an immediate review of the 15-year-old experiment in semi-privatization.
Finally, the new government should commit to more equitable funding. The former government committed almost $8 billion to just three Lower Mainland transportation projects — the Port Mann Bridge, George Massey tunnel replacement and South Fraser Perimeter Road.
A similar funding commitment to the Capital Region would result in transportation investments of more than $1 billion. Instead, the only major provincially supported transportation infrastructure project in more than decade is the $85-million McKenzie interchange, with $52 million from the province.
We’ve had much talk from political parties about their concern for Vancouver Island issues. If they want the support of voters here — and to do what is right for this region — we want action.