Billions needed to upgrade provincial transportation 

Tolls likely as part of plan to pay for improvements, minister says

B.C. needs to spend $10 billion on its transportation system over the next 10 years if it wants to stay competitive.

But government coffers are empty said Transportation Minister Judith Reid.

That means the government will have to put tolls on roads, form partnerships with private companies, use royalties from industries and even consider raising the gas tax if the money is to be found.

"We have huge needs and the province doesn’t have any money," Reid told members of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce this week.

"We take transportation for granted. But when you look at economic opportunities you realize you can’t get them without investment in transportation.

"Everything relates to the movement of goods, services and people."

Even BC Rail may be heading for the chopping block. The government has already announced that the passenger services of BC Rail will end Oct 31.

Now, said Reid, selling off the freight service is being considered.

"It is a suggestion that has come out of communities," she said.

"We’ve made the commitment to keep BC Rail but there are consequences to that. One of the consequences to that is we don’t have money to invest. "We made the commitment because we wanted to support the people who use BC Rail but the people who use BC Rail are saying while you made this commitment it’s not supporting us anymore so we want you to re-examine your commitment.

"There are limited choices. We can run BC rail with a reduced service… if that is not acceptable then we can have a different choice there."

As for the transportation needs of the province, all options for raising money are being considered, as no one option will raise enough money alone.

Raising the gas tax one cent would only raise $6 million.

And tolls must be reasonable if they are to be accepted by the public.

The money needs to be spent in five main areas according to Reid: northern and rural road restoration, the Sea to Sky highway, the Trans Canada highway, Highway 97 (the Okanagan) and rapid transit in the Lower Mainland.

"The Okanagan Lake Bridge needs to be replaced," said Reid.

"The thing is wearing out. It has to be replaced and that’s a billion-dollar project.

Congestion crossing the Fraser River must also be addressed she said.

Studies have shown that traffic in the Lower Mainland has increased 14 per cent in the last five years. In the Okanagan it has increased 7 per cent in the same time frame, but no money has been spent on the transportation infrastructure.

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