from Times Colonist, Sept. 23, 2010
Victoria to apply for gas tax funds to help pay for new crossing
A regional district committee voted unanimously in favour Wednesday of supporting the City of Victoria’s application for gas tax funds to bring rail across the Johnson Street Bridge.
The decision must be ratified by the Capital Regional District board, but that is largely a formality. The vote was a crucial piece in trying to secure funding for replacement of the Johnson Street Bridge, including bringing a rail line across.
“If [the committee] had voted it down, rail would not be on the table,” said Victoria Coun. John Luton.
Victoria politicians have decided to replace the 86-year-old bridge at a cost of $77 million. The federal government has committed $21 million. The city is holding a referendum Nov. 20 to get approval to borrow the other $49.2 million.
But Victoria cut bringing a rail line across — that would have added another $12 million to the controversial project — unless outside funding could be found.
Victoria asked the CRD’s planning, transportation and protective services committee to put the region’s clout behind a bid for regional gas tax funds to offset the cost of adding rail.
The committee went against a staff recommendation which suggested the application for the gas tax money might be more successful if it did not include the rail line component.
Including the rail line in the application suggests there “would need to be some likelihood of a future commuter rail service,” the report said.
Although rail commuter travel isn’t yet viable, a number of committees and organizations are working on it, including the Island Corridor Foundation.
Its executive director Graham Bruce told the committee that the next few months are critical for the future of train travel and ultimately a commuter train on Vancouver Island. The region’s support for a rail line across the bridge would go a long way in determining that future, Bruce said.
If the CRD board ratifies the vote and the application for gas tax funding is successful, it would pay for half of the rail line. The city would then decide if it wants to provide the other half.
“I can’t speak for council, but I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t provide that money, whether through dipping into infrastructure reserves or finding another source within our bank accounts somewhere for our half,” Luton said.