BY MICHAEL LEE
Official Opposition Critic for Transportation, Infrastructure and TransLink
& MLA for Vancouver-Langara
COVID-19 has changed the ways, frequency, and ability of travel and commuting around our province, and impacted the transportation businesses and services that play essential roles in our daily lives.
After months of inaction, and only after significant advocacy from industry and our B.C. Liberal Caucus, the NDP listened to our calls for industry support. They finally delivered grants to bus companies and regional airports that have been hit hard over this past year. Grants to keep businesses from going under are a positive first step, but to advance our province’s economic recovery, we will need to do much more to support the transportation sector.
What B.C. really needs is for the NDP government to develop a comprehensive plan to maintain and build our transportation networks and infrastructure. This would include targeted financial relief for operators and investments in much-needed infrastructure. We need the routes that we depend on to be operational through COVID-19 and long into the future.
Not only are healthy and viable transportation networks essential for facilitating the trade and travel necessary for economic recovery, but investing in our infrastructure will also directly create jobs and stimulate the economy — something B.C. needs right now. In January, I wrote to B.C. Transportation Minister, Rob Fleming, asking if he had a plan to ensure the future security of transportation in B.C. I have yet to receive any indication that he intends to consult with industry stakeholders and develop such a plan.
I know that members of the Minister’s own party agree that we need to be planning right now. Vancouver-False Creek NDP MLA, Brenda Bailey has said, “infrastructure planning and building is profoundly important to B.C.’s economy and to our communities, particularly during these trying times.” If this is the position of Minister Fleming’s caucus colleagues, then why is he making so little effort to develop a plan?
There is no shortage of transportation services or infrastructure projects in need of attention — ones that could provide tremendous benefit to B.C. communities. Transportation services like buses and airports will need continued support. The NDP government cancelled the Massey Tunnel Replacement project almost 1,300 days ago, with no clear timelines for when the project will move forward again. There is also the replacement of the Taylor Bridge crossing the Peace River, the transportation access challenges to Royal Columbian Hospital, and improvements to the Brunette Highway 1 interchange in New Westminster, which has also been stagnant under the NDP government. Fraser Valley residents have been waiting years for the much-needed widening of Highway 1 between Langley and Abbotsford. Rural roads throughout B.C. are deteriorating and in need of significant repair, including due to damage from flooding and landslides.
On top of all this, we have the ongoing struggle with Community Benefit Agreements, which are discriminatory and unnecessarily drive up the costs of projects, while dragging down their scope and causing significant delays. This has been the case with the Highway 1 expansions for Salmon Arm West, Chase Creek Road, Illecillewat and Kicking Horse Canyon, along with the Pattullo Bridge Replacement and the Broadway Subway Project.
We need the NDP government to prove they have a real vision for transportation, including in Metro Vancouver, where the population is expected to grow by one million people over the next three decades.
We need a plan that will ensure the long-term viability of our critical transportation and trade routes. We also need this government to advocate for B.C.’s fair share of federal funding for well-targeted infrastructure projects. From commuting and daily life, critical care access and facilitating trade, to eventually bringing visitors back to our province — we need safe, efficient and reliable transportation networks.
It’s time to end the delays and for this NDP government to make our transportation networks and infrastructure a priority.