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Province welcomes mayoral vote to raise taxes for Evergreen line

The provincial government has applauded a decision made by the mayors of Metro Vancouver to raise regional taxes to help fund the construction of the Evergreen transit line.

The Translink Mayors' Council voted 15-6 to raise the gasoline tax from 15 to 17 cents per litre starting next April. A temporary increase in property taxes may also be in the works, depending on a future arrangement between the region and province.

In a conference call this afternoon, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Blair Lekstrom thanked the Mayors' Council for its decision and promised to bring the gas tax proposal before the provincial legislative assembly "within the next few weeks."

The potential property tax hike, which would collect an average $23 extra from each property owner, is scheduled to go into effect in 2013. The tax would last two years, at which point other sources of funding would have to be found.

But according to Minister Lekstrom, if the province and Metro Vancouver can find those other funding sources prior to 2013, the proposed property tax increase could be scrapped altogether.

"We've agreed to come to the table to look at other funding models that would not only be for this project but for future projects," he said. "If we can reach agreement on that then the Mayors' Council have determined that they would prefer to use those other funding sources."

Responding to a report published earlier this week by TransLink Commissioner Martin Crilly, which called official ridership projections for the Evergreen line "overly optimistic," while warning of long-term budgetary shortfalls, the minister urged the public to read the Commissioner's report only as a "cautionary tale."

"The Canada line has surpassed ridership projections," said Lekstrom. "I'm optimistic with the work that TransLink has done with their projections. I hope they're achievable and I think they are."

The Evergreen Line is a proposed rapid transit line that will connect Vancouver to Coquitlam, through Port Moody and Burnaby. In total, the project is expected to cost $1.2 billion. Part of a broader "Moving Forward" transit package, the costs of the transportation inititiaves will be split between Metro Vancouver, the province, and the federal government. In total, Metro Vancouver will pay $400 million over ten years, while $417 million will come from Ottawa. The remaining costs will be shouldered by the province.

"I fully understand that people are concerned with having to pay more taxes," said Lekstrom. "People are looking forward to transit improvements and the only way to do that is to invest dollars. It's always important that we try to find the balance."

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee.

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