Did I just hear “Shovel Ready”?

Two transit projects in BC are “shovel ready”.

1) Rail for the Valley’s plan for regional railway connecting, Chilliwack, Sardis, Abbotsford, Langley, Cloverdale and North Delta to Vancouver and

2) The E & N Railway connecting Courtney, Qualicum Nanaimo Chemainus, Duncan, Langford to Victoria, with a future connection to Port Alberni.

All is needed is funding.

Secure the funding and the lines can be rehabilitated for use as a modern regional railway.

Both lines are in use, with the E&N having only partial usage and both are in need of major refurbishment.

Both projects would bring major major transportation benefits,  the transit starved Fraser Valley and the equally transit starved Vancouver Island.

Both rail projects would employ many more local people; far more than metro Vancouver’s highly specialized Movia Automatic Light Metro (SkyTrain), which needs offshore workers.

Sadly, our metro and provincial politicians are still thinking transit is to be a prestige project and built to cut ribbons at election time and damn the cost.

Tram-Train is the answer for both railways and its time our planers drag themselves from the 1950′s and into the 21st century and plan for what works.

A tram-train is a light-rail public transport system where trams run through from an urban tramway network to main-line railway lines which are shared with conventional trains. This combines the tram’s flexibility and accessibility with a train’s greater speed, and bridges the distance between main railway stations and a city centre.

Both projects would reduce car use by giving a viable transit alternative to highways crowded with auto traffic.

Unlike the $4.6 billion 12.8 km extensions to the Expo and Millennium Lines, which will do little in attracting ridership or reducing car usage in Vancouver and Surrey, a regional railway will provide transit customers with many destinations.

A billion dollars invested on Fraser Valley Rail and on E&N, would provide a solid basis for providing a regional rail service, attracting customers and providing plenty of scope for future growth.

The covid-19 disaster could be the silver lining, with BC adopting affordable regional railways, instead of unafordable, multi billion dollar rapid transit lines, as a tool to reduce congestion and pollution.

 

Ottawa

Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna is preparing plans to rush out billions of dollars in budgeted – but so far largely unspent – infrastructure funds as a way to stimulate the Canadian economy once current pandemic restrictions are lifted.

The immediate focus of cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office is on containing the COVID-19 health crisis and preventing bankruptcies, but ministers and officials are also starting to consult experts on how to gradually reopen the economy.

Borrowing a phrase from the Harper government’s “Economic Action Plan” spending spree after the 2008-09 financial crisis, the term “shovel ready” is back in use as Ottawa seeks out smaller projects – such as recreation-centre repairs – that can be approved quickly and create immediate jobs.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. McKenna said she’s been reading up on former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which included major infrastructure spending as part of the U.S. response to the Great Depression in the 1930s.

She is also reaching out to people who played key roles in responding to the 2008-09 economic crisis, including former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, former Conservative minister John Baird and former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page.

Ms. McKenna said the scope of a future stimulus plan will depend on the scale of the economic damage created by COVID-19, which is currently unknown. But she said her current focus is on speeding up the more than $180-billion in infrastructure spending that has been approved through to 2028 but is mostly unspent.

“How do we get the money out the door this construction season? I think that’s going to be incredibly important,” she said.

A senior government official, who The Globe is not identifying because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the government has not yet created a formal team internally to work specifically on a recovery plan. Rather, ministers such as Ms. McKenna, Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, Small Business Minister Mary Ng, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and others have been encouraged to reach out to business leaders and other stakeholders to gather suggestions for a phased-in return to normal.

The official said there is still too much uncertainty over the length and breadth of the current shutdown to make concrete policy plans for the recovery phase.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that it would be “terrible” if current restrictions were lifted too soon. He repeated that it will be weeks before a phased-in return can begin and that the gradual process will vary by region and by industrial sector.

“We are not there yet,” he said. “We’re still a number of weeks away from that.”

The Liberal government came to power in 2015 on a platform that promised major increases to the federal infrastructure budget. Later labelled the “Investing In Canada” plan, the more than $180-billion program includes specific allotments to provinces and lays out priority areas such as public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, including affordable housing, and trade and transportation.

Current Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux has reported that infrastructure funds have not been spent on schedule. Mr. Giroux has also noted that provinces appear to have scaled back their own infrastructure spending plans in response to increased federal transfers.

Federal infrastructure transfers are usually contingent on contributions from provincial and municipal governments, which are now facing major budget shortfalls because of the pandemic.

Ms. McKenna said Ottawa is prepared to be “flexible” with its program rules in order to get money out the door.

“I know that the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, had good conversations with premiers about infrastructure money, which everyone actually sees as very important,” she said.

Former PBO Kevin Page said Ottawa will likely have to assume all or most of project construction costs, given that provinces will be especially hard hit financially by COVID-19.

“They’re pretty much going to be broke,” said Mr. Page, who now heads the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy. Mr. Page said Ottawa will also need to contribute new money to infrastructure to stimulate the economy, given that the Bank of Canada has already lowered interest rates to near zero.

“There’s going to be an important role for the federal government and infrastructure will be a big part of it,” he said.

The government is expecting the Canada Infrastructure Bank to play a significant role in stimulating the economy. The Liberal government created the bank in 2017 with a $35-billion budget and a mandate to attract large institutional investors, such as pension funds, to invest in Canadian infrastructure projects.

Ms. McKenna recently announced the departure of bank chair Janice Fukakusa and bank chief executive Pierre Lavallée, and the government has named Michael Sabia as the new chair of the bank. Mr. Sabia stepped down in February as the president and CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. He is a former member of the federal government’s economic advisory council, which recommended the creation of a federal infrastructure bank.

Ms. McKenna said she is speaking with Mr. Sabia for advice on broader infrastructure issues in addition to how the bank will play a role in the recovery.

“Someone of his expertise and knowledge and experience is extraordinarily helpful and we’ve already had very good conversations,” she said. The minister said Mr. Sabia is considering how the bank could support short-term projects, in addition to longer-term projects that the bank is already studying, such as Via Rail’s plan for a new dedicated passenger rail line between Quebec City and Toronto.

“We need to do big projects. We need to think big,” she said. “If we are going to be competitive, if we’re going to improve the quality of life for people, also, if we’re going to transition to a clean economy, projects like that are incredibly important.”

 

Comments

6 Responses to “Did I just hear “Shovel Ready”?”
  1. Emily says:

    Have the feds and province already given Translink their share of the money for “SkyTrain” expansions to Arbutus and Fleetwood? If not and this covid last long they may not have the money to give to Tran$link…

    Zwei replies: No, the money is promised but not delivered and i think think you are bang on.

  2. “Both projects would reduce car use by giving a viable transit alternative to highways crowded with auto traffic.”

    And that’s just where the JOBS story begins.

    In Nanaimo, the Island Highway is 4 km away from Downtown (travelling on Jingle Pot Road). The E&N, on the other hand, is just 0.25 km away… Easy Walking Distance.

    Although the Johnson Street Bridge upgrade in Victoria appears not to have made provisions for modern tram, piers were left in place that will carry the road bed.

    The same storey repeats all along the E&N route.

    The selling point for both the E&N and the BCER South of Fraser is that the lines cross feral lands where new, sustainable townsites could be built providing massive amounts of affordable housing.

    Covenants on title and land banks will secure new homes against land speculation (following on the Co-op model).

    Furthermore, the fact that capacity for affordable housing can be built up in places where land valuations have not yet hit the stratosphere is just ‘good’ planning. We don’t wait for the city to be ablaze before we build the fire halls.

    The Covid-19 sun down of our economy puts government back in the saddle for re-starting the economy. Here, both shovel-ready projects present a significant advantage.

    Regional transit systems create jobs by accessing feral land for affordable housing.

    The jobs generated by home builders stretch far past their work sites. Building with value-added timber will give a boost to Forestry.

    The supply chain of subcontractors providing finishes for house builders, gutted by the tower projects that build next to Skytrain sites, would flourish again.

    As townsites build in new localities, government and services will have to move on site. Indeed, the new townsites or Tramtowns can be incorporated with their own mayor and council.

    All of these small, incremental changes will produce new jobs.

  3. Rico says:

    There is now a report for the E&N available.

  4. Haveacow says:

    Actually I confirmed B.C. did get its money for both the Arbutus and Fleetwood Skytrain extensions and is sitting in a bank ready to be used as Translink needs. All other monies for future extensions are on hold as per the law, (unspecified federal infrastructure money is held during official states of emergency and can’t be spent on unspecified projects unless there is direct cabinet approval).

  5. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    The Broadway Subway has been underway for almost 2yrs.
    Few hunderds Millions have been spend it might not be finished by 2025 but there is no way back, this project was promised 30yrs ago!!.
    The Fleetwood extension has not been approved by seniors govt
    and only money available is for planning.

    Zwei replies: The Broadway subway was the sop for then Vancouver councilor and GVRD Chair, George Puil to accept the NDP’s flip flop from LRT to now called Movia Automatic Light metro, erroneously called SkyTrain. The original Broadway-Lougheed LRT plans stopped at Arbutus because it was always envisioned to reopen the Arbutus corridor as a modern LRT line.

    The province (NDP) promised to pay 2/3rds of SkyTrain only construction, West of commercial Drive.

    Gordon Campbell’s election put all SkyTrain planning into the trash bin as the BC Liberals opted for a SNC Lavalin/Bombardier led P-3 (bombardier got pipped at the post by hyundia in the mock P-3 bidding) for the Canada Line. Campbell and the Liberals toyed with a Broadway subway and it was to be known as the Legacy line, but major political ills with the Cambie St. cut and cover for the Canada Line made any mention of a subway under Broadway unsalable.

    Enter criminal money launderer’s and condo builders and Vision Vancouver and with the best politicians money can buy, we got the Broadway subway to Arbutus.

  6. zweisystem says:

    The money for both lines have been approved and in the bank, ready to be squandered.

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