Canadians often joke (or grumble) that people in Toronto act as if the city were the centre of the universe. In the coming months, the GTA had better look westward for clues to reducing traffic congestion. As Queen’s Park prepares to launch the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA) this fall, a lot of eyes are on TransLink, the agency that oversees bridges, highways and transit systems in and around Vancouver.
Created in 1999 by the B.C. government, TransLink has taken on a great deal more taxing and planning power than is proposed for the GTTA, but the Vancouver agency now faces both controversy and a major cash crunch. Sound familiar, TTC users?
BC’s ruling Liberals are reviewing the way TransLink works — which could result in minor changes or perhaps a dramatic overhaul.
Board members, mostly mayors from urban and suburban municipalities, recently approved a multi-billion dollar plan to add bridge and road capacity, but delayed a new light rail line.
Critics have assailed the transport body, some saying its plans will make gridlock worse, and others that the financial crisis is self-inflicted. Observers worry that so much money is going to current projects that TransLink must shelve any further upgrades — in a region with considerable traffic problems.
One focus for criticism is the Canada Line, the underground rail link now being built to the city’s airport and the southern suburb of Richmond. It could saddle TransLink with enough debt to effectively put off other transit improvements.
Transportation experts in Toronto have a similar fear that the planned $1 billion subway extension to York Region could delay all other TTC projects — “the elephant in the room” as transit critic Steve Munro calls it.
How can Vancouver tackle its long list of future projects? Raise more taxes or introduce tolls are two controversial options. The government of Liberal premier Gordon Campbell has pooh-poohed tolls on existing bridges or roads, tacitly acknowledging this is politically unpopular right now. And yet the legislature in Victoria is seen as pushing a lot of expensive projects, without letting TransLink raise the necessary cash.
Expect similar challenges in the “Greater Golden Horseshoe” as Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals prepare for next year’s election. Commuters want better travelling conditions, whether on the roads or in trains and buses — but we don’t want to provide the massive amounts of cash that are needed.
Whether it’s higher transit fares and gas taxes, new highway tolls or other sources, the money will have to come from somewhere.