On Tuesday, the BC Government released its proposed budget for 2014/15. While much has been said about the budget, I want to focus on the transportation portion.
I remember in the Campbell era when it was announced that the province was going to shift to being more committed to investing in public transit. Things appear to be slowly drifting away from that vision.
In 2011/12, BC Transit received $161 million to cover its operating expenses. In 2012/13, BC Transit received $121 million for its operating expenses. In 2013/14, BC Transit received $112 million for its operating expense. The proposed 2014/15 budget will increase funding to $116 million, but it appears that transit operation spending is on a downward trend. At the same time, the Ministry of Transportation's overall operating budget has increased modestly from around $806 million to $812 million.
In addition to decreasing direct operational spending on transit, the province has put up roadblocks to finding a long-term funding solution for TransLink to expand transit service in Metro Vancouver. This has led to a reduction of per-capita service in the region.
Instead of the province becoming a leader in supporting transit service, the province is slowly turning its back to supporting sustainable transportation in the province.
When it comes to transportation project spending in the province, things are a bit different. For highway projects, the province spent a total of $690 million in 2011/12, $715 million in 2012/13, and $638 million in 2013/14. The government is proposing to spend $567 million on roads in 2014/15. The decrease in highway spending is due to the completion of the many Gateway Program highway projects in Metro Vancouver such as the South Fraser Perimeter Road (excluding the Port Mann/Highway 1 Project).
The next major highway project will be the George Massey Tunnel replacement, and the government is committing to spend $18 million in 2014/15 to develop the project. The Massey Tunnel replacement bridge is likely a decade out according to the province. One of the scary things is that the replacement project doesn’t appear to be well thought out as even the Ministry of Transportation says that its “too soon to estimate how much the project will cost.” It could likely be another Port Mann boondoggle.
I haven’t mention the over $3 billion dollar Port Mann/Highway 1 project because it is the responsible of Transportation Investment Corporate, a crown corporation. The project is meant to pay its own way, but due to the massive reduction of vehicles using the bridge, it will cost all BC taxpayers $79 million in 2014/15. To put this into perspective, the province is proposing to increasing Medical Service Plan premiums by 4%. That increase could have been halved if it wasn’t for the Port Mann/Highway 1 project’s financial underperformance.
I do have to give the province some credit though. The province has increased spending on dedicated cycling infrastructure from $3 million in 2011/12 to $9 million this year. Also, the province has increased spending on transit capital projects from $191 million in 2011/12 to $420 million in 2014/15. This major increase is mostly due to the construction of the Evergreen Line.
While it is good that the province is committed to spending on capital transit improvements, without operating funding, it will be difficult for BC Transit or TransLink to actually take full advantage of the provincial funding.
With money being spent on bridges that people don’t want to take, and with taxpayers likely to be on the hook for the costs of the George Massey Tunnel replacement, I have to wonder if that money could have been better spent on supporting transit service throughout the province.