British Columbia

Q&A: TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond talks $1B increase in projected costs, service improvements

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond talks about the historic transportation deal that details investments in SkyTrain and bus services across Metro Vancouver.

Land values, weakening loonie and construction costs blamed for increase in major capital project costs

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond says the second phase of the 10-year transpiration plan is ambitious but necessary to support the region's growing population. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It's the largest and most ambitious transit investment in B.C.'s history — but TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond says that's exactly what the Lower Mainland needs.

On Monday, Translink announced that it will begin public consultations on its 10-year investment plan.

Desmond discussed projected cost and planned service increases with Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC Radio One's On The Coast.

80 additional cars and an extension of the Millennium Line are planned for Metro Vancouver's SkyTrain network. (CBC)

It's clear that Vancouver will need more public transit over the next few decades as more than a million more residents are expected by 2041. What does this plan do to address that need?

The phase two plan that we are moving forward with now more or less fully funds the rest of the 10-year plan. 

By 2021 we will have already implemented two-thirds of the bus service, increasing frequency on major corridors, putting more buses on overcrowded routes, adding service to parts of the region that either are very underserved or just don't have service today.

We recently announced we're buying 80 additional cars for all three SkyTrain lines. In the 2019-2020 period, when those cars begin to arrive, we will have the operating dollars to put out more service. 

Down the road, we'll start operating five-car trains on the Expo and Millennium Lines. And then, of course, major rapid transit projects: the Broadway extension of the Millennium Line and the light rail service in Surrey; we can expect those to be operational mid-next decade.

TransLink hopes to start construction in late 2019 on a new LRT line in Surrey, B.C. (City of Surrey)

That's a huge list, isn't it? 

That's $7.3 billion. It is the largest investment in transit in B.C.'s history, so it is an ambitious plan — but this region needs an ambitious plan.

What has led to such a significant increase on the costs for the Broadway SkyTrain extension?

First of all, land values. The Broadway project in particular, there's a considerable amount that needs to be acquired to support the project. Land values in Vancouver on the Broadway line have more or less doubled since 2014.

In 2014, the Canadian dollar was in a stronger place versus the U.S. dollar ... we procure many of the services and many of the goods internationally.

Finally, just general cost inflation in the construction industry has pushed the values up. 

A map of the planned Millennium Line extension to Arbutus Street. (TransLink)

So how might this all impact the average taxpayer?

The federal government has, in this phase of the program, about $2 billion in commitments. The provincial government; about $2.5 billion. The [Metro Vancouver] region makes up the rest ... roughly equally by a small increase in transit fares in 2020 and 2021, a small increase in property tax, a regional development fee … and an increase in parking sales tax.

Each of those sources will raise about $12.5 million per year.

In fact, the amount of money that we are seeking from the region, from local taxpayers and transit users, is less than what was forecast.

What would you say to someone who feels the options in their area still won't be enough with this plan?

That's why we have to continue to build and develop. We are an active, world-class region with very strong economic potential going forward, so we've got to fill in. We've got very good service in places like Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster. We are just beginning to penetrate the Tri-Cities but we have a long way to go south of the Fraser.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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