All Abbotsford’s mayor wants from the provincial government is up to $8 billion for transportation in the Fraser Valley.
That sum sounds like a lot of money because, again, it’s $8 billion. But Mayor Henry Braun told council Monday that he thinks a rapid transit link to Abbotsford is (relatively) affordable and can be done if the province is as ambitious as a pair of legendary British Columbia politicians.
“WAC Bennett and Phil Gaglardi were some people who made some bold moves. I think the present provincial government needs to make some bold moves and one of them would be commuter rail,” Braun said after a council discussion on feedback that Abbotsford will send to TransLink as that body shapes its plans for the next 30 years.
“I do think the day has come for lots of reasons … that it’s perhaps time that the province needs to look at borrowing $7 (billion) to $8 billion – with a B,” he said. “It should come out to Abbotsford and eventually to Chilliwack as well because there are 300,000 people that live east of the Langley border.”
Braun has regularly and repeatedly called for the widening of Highway 1 between Langley and Abbotsford, and the city has listed that project as its top transportation priority. But the province has focused more on rapid transit projects, and in December the premier’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, promised to meet with Braun soon to discuss the subject.
Braun said the time is right for a commuter-rail transit link between Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Braun doesn’t believe the existing Interurban freight line through the valley will work, but said the time is right for the province to lay its own tracks out to Abbotsford.
“Interest rates are at historic lows,” he said. “There is good debt and bad debt. That would be a good debt, because that infrastructure would be built to last 100-plus years.”
Braun, who previously ran a rail construction business, said he is confident that the province could borrow such a sum and still maintain its AAA credit rating because B.C.’s debt-to-GDP ratio would still be reasonable.
“As I’ve looked at the numbers, borrowing $7 (billion) to $8 billion is doable and would not push up the provincial debt-to-GDP ratio to the levels where the rating agencies would get exercised. It’s manageable and I think that has to happen.
“The Fraser Valley can solve a lot of problems to the west of us,” he added.
Braun pointed to the lack of available industrial land in Metro Vancouver and repeated Abbotsford’s desire to remove two blocks of farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve for such purposes.
“You have to develop regional hubs. We have a university and airport … I think we need to get a little more vocal about investing significant funds in this valley.”
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