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Falcon holds to $3-billion cost for Gateway project

William Boei

Vancouver Sun


Friday, January 27, 2006

 

The Gateway project to expand road capacity through Greater Vancouver will not exceed $3 billion despite the double threat of construction-cost inflation and labour shortages, Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said Thursday.

Falcon, who is expected to release details of the plan and supporting studies next week, stuck to the $3-billion figure he has used for more than a year.

He acknowledged "there is a lot of pressure" on costs, but said there is less pressure on road-building than on other types of construction.

B.C. will ask the new federal government to tinker with immigration policies to make sure B.C. gets the skilled trades it needs for its unprecedented building boom, he added.

Falcon said the plan will contain all the major elements he outlined earlier.

"The Gateway program, which includes the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge, the widening of the No. 1 Highway, the South Fraser Perimeter Highway and of course the North Fraser Perimeter Road improvements, including the new Pitt River Bridge, is a very large program," he said.

"It's a $3-billion program and I'll tell you, it's very important to secure the economic future for the Lower Mainland and the province of British Columbia."

The cost to the province could be offset by private partners and operators providing some of the capital and being allowed to charge tolls.

Falcon said the plan will be based on "two years of massive and extensive discussions with the area municipalities and staff" and will include engineering, design, environmental impact and other studies.

He rejected a suggestion that he had delayed making the plan public until after the federal election in the hope that a Conservative government would be more sympathetic to a huge road-building program than the Liberals, some of whom shared Vancouver's fears that it will ultimately increase traffic congestion and lead to development sprawl in the Fraser Valley.

Falcon spoke to reporters at the ceremonial opening of the latest SkyTrain station, at Vancouver Community College-Clark Drive on the Millennium Line. The ceremony also marked the 20th anniversary of the Expo Line starting up in 1986.

He confirmed that he plans to conduct a "governance review" of TransLink, the regional transportation authority. Falcon was harshly critical of TransLink in 2004 when it twice voted to kill the RAV rapid transit line from Vancouver to Richmond.

"We'll be doing a TransLink governance review, and I'll be announcing that in the coming months," Falcon said.

He said he would not use the review as a club to induce TransLink to cooperate with the Gateway plan.

"They argue and bicker and fight over most everything that's put forward," he said of TransLink and the Greater Vancouver Regional District board, which has also expressed reservations about the effects of the Gateway plan.

TransLink chairman and Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he had heard suggestions of a governance review, but hadn't been told anything by Falcon.

"TransLink is now six or seven years old and with its history, I think it can probably stand a good long look," he said.

The review will likely include a look at how TransLink directors are now appointed -- by the regional district board -- and whether the province should fill three seats on the board that it has left vacant for years.

bboei@png.canwest.com

 The Vancouver Sun 2006





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