Metro Vancouver leaders so far aren’t putting much stock in suggestions that South of Fraser cities could break away and form their own regional district.
Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese has said he wants his community to look at splitting from Metro and TransLink and either joining the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) or forming a new partnership with Abbotsford, which wants to leave the FVRD.
He cited disappointment over TransLink’s decision to freeze transit upgrades such as the promised Highway 1 RapidBus until its finances are sorted out.
But Metro board chair Greg Moore said he thinks the idea is mainly being driven by Abbotsford, and warned a breakaway could be costly to Langley taxpayers.
“I would suggest the cost implications would be quite high for good quality services they already receive,” he said.
Moore said fans of the idea seem to mix up the roles of TransLink and Metro Vancouver, wrongly assuming Langley would stop paying the 17 cent per litre TransLink gas tax by leaving Metro.
He said that would depend on the province’s willingness to let a breakaway municipality exit TransLink as well.
Likewise, he said, anger over the impending tolls on the Port Mann Bridge have nothing to do with the regional district.
“That’s a provincial government toll,” Moore said. “We won’t see a penny of that at the regional district or TransLink even.”
Moore said he welcomes cities that want to probe the value they get from the regional district, and added he and the board’s vice-chair will visit each council in the weeks ahead to answer questions about Metro services and funding.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said Metro isn’t perfect and Langley politicians are within their rights to ask tough questions.
The bulk of Metro’s budget is spent delivering drinking water, treating sewage and disposing of garbage.
Corrigan, the regional planning committee chair, said it’s not clear how Metro might unravel the financing of its water, sewer and other infrastructure in the event of a breakup, but said “anything can be accomplished” if there’s political will.
He said the talk may be just “sabre rattling” born out of frustration with TransLink.
But Corrigan also said Langley politicians have themselves to blame for pushing the province to expand the Highway 1 freeway, which Metro planners warned would undercut future demand for transit.
“When you spend $3.5 billion on a road and a bridge, there isn’t an awful lot left over for transit,” he said.
Having pushed successfully to twin the Port Mann Bridge, Corrigan said, Langley residents are now “absurdly” complaining about both the tolls on it as well as the lack of transit.
“They could have borrowed $3.5 billion to build an integrated transit system in the Fraser Valley,” he said. “But they wanted roads and bridges. Now they say they want transit too.”
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she’s not interested in trying to form a new South of Fraser area regional district at this time.
“That’s not a priority on our agenda,” she said. “The priority on our agenda is working together and identifying how we’re going to take 70 per cent of the region’s future growth and what infrastructure needs to be put in place.”
She said that will require local cities, Metro Vancouver, TransLink and the province working well together.
“We have to coordinate our efforts,” she said. “It’s not about doing things and planning in isolation.”
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said South of Fraser mayors have been meeting to discuss common issues but added “it’s a major leap to say we’re going to pull out of Metro.”