Budget Estimates 2021: Transportation and Infrastructure

Jun 28, 2021 | 42-1, Blog, Estimates, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

With my part of the 60 minutes that was available to the BC Green Caucus for Budget Estimates in Transportation and Infrastructure, I had a limited opportunity to canvass a couple of important topics.

In this session, I asked Minister Rob Fleming about the dumping of scrubber wash water, grey and black water from cruise ships and other vessels on the British Columbia coast. I also raised several other issues including B.C. Ferries, rapid bus services for the Saanich Peninsula, road surface improvements for the Southern Gulf Islands and requested a status update on the Broadway Line servicing the University of British Columbia.


Transcript


A. Olsen:

I’ve been waiting an hour and 40 minutes to jump up and ask a question about cruise ships to the minister. But it’s not the question you’re thinking of. It’s not a question you’re thinking of.

I did ask the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture about an article that was written in February in Business in Vancouver about sewage grey water and scrubber wash water. I recognize that this is definitely coming from cruise ships but also from just large international vessels and that the Canadian laws…. Specifically, the British Columbia coast is more vulnerable than any other part of the coastline here in western North America because Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California have much stricter laws than we do about dumping sewage grey water and scrubber wash water. So this is the place that those vessels discharge.

I recognize it’s a federal responsibility, but since there’s been so much focus put on the conversations that are happening around the cruise ship industry between the provincial and federal governments, I thought that I would at least start this session that I and my colleague from Cowichan Valley have by putting it on the minister’s radar as well. It is an issue that, with some changes to Canadian regulations and advocacy on this provincial government, we could improve the outcomes for the Salish Sea that I know that we have some jurisdiction over — but, as well, a very big interest for our constituents.

Just wanting to get the minister’s commitment to raise this issue with the federal government.

[4:10 p.m.]

Hon. R. Fleming:

Thank you to the member for raising it. It’s an important issue. It’s not one, perhaps, that the Ministry of Transportation would take the lead on. The Ministry of Environment has certainly done so with air pollution that is related to cruise ship traffic. There have been some very good programs with the federal government that the Port of Vancouver has worked with on: clean shore power to reduce air pollution and new standards around bumper fuel that reduce particulate matter.

The issue around marine pollution from sewage and grey water that the member raises is a good one, and I’ll take his point that it’s of interest to all British Columbians. But it’s something that the member raises on behalf of his constituents to talk to other members of the government about what engagements there have been or could be around this issue.

It does pain me to hear that the United States may have a higher standard than us in this regard. The member could be accurate there. I’ll have to go away and look into that. I commit to him to have a conversation with some of my colleagues who are in a better position to have this discussion with Ottawa to see if there are opportunities to look at what the member has raised today.

A. Olsen:

I recognize that there are a variety of ministries here to raise this with and that others are maybe better suited. I recognize that. I just thought I’d take advantage of the narrative that’s been rolled out over the last little bit to say that we’re in these conversations. There’s some timeliness to it, at the very least. I appreciate the minister’s receptivity.

Going back to the member from Sea to Sky’s questions around B.C. Ferries, if I may, just for a moment, and the discussion around the $308 million that’s been put in place. I think my colleague from Sea to Sky has done a good job of outlining, I think, some of maybe the medium-to-long-term challenges that COVID might have on the three big transportation providers: TransLink, B.C. Transit and B.C. Ferries. As the member knows, my riding is…. B.C. Transit and B.C. Ferries are very important to the constituents living in Saanich North and the Islands.

One of the…. I think this is an area that wasn’t canvassed, so maybe I’ll just ask. If it was, I was paying attention. But maybe not — we’ve all been there. With respect to the impact of COVID on the bottom line for B.C. Ferries, they have quite a robust capital plan. I’m wondering about the impact. Ship replacement, terminal upgrades…. We’re talking about a pretty substantial terminal upgrade at Swartz Bay but, as well, the need for terminal upgrades on most of the southern Gulf Islands that I represent.

I’m just, I think, worried about the potential impact of COVID on the capital budgets and the reserves within B.C. Ferries. Just recognizing that…. I’m just wanting to get, I think, the minister’s perspective on whether or not we would use the COVID contingency funds that are set aside in order to support B.C. Ferries in becoming whole if, in fact, the impact of COVID-19 has had a damaging impact on the capital infrastructure plans that they have in place over the short, medium and into long term.

[4:15 p.m.]

Hon. R. Fleming:

Thank you to the member for the question. We have canvassed, and I presume he is able to watch or read a written record of some of the questions, about the restart funding and how that was able to stabilize at exactly the right moment, during COVID, the fiscal integrity of B.C. Ferries as well as maintain service levels while the ferry service was deemed essential and ridership was significantly hampered. That is something that has really improved the outlook for B.C. Ferries.

[4:20 p.m.]

I talked to the Ferries critic earlier about, really, a better period of time to look at revenue recovery, which, of course…. The authority internally funds its capital plan. It depends upon how healthy the revenue situation is, retained earnings, all those sorts of things. We’re going to have a better idea, after the summer and peak season, where B.C. Ferries is at.

In December of 2020, they did have over $500 million of government support given to them at really the height or the mid point of the pandemic, which I know that B.C. Ferry Services and the executive team at B.C. Ferries were very thankful for. They did publicly announce some deferrals in their capital plan. They mentioned some shifts from new vessels to refurbishments.

We’ll have better information later this year about what that looks like, but he can probably avail himself of the things that B.C. Ferries has publicly made known about how COVID, thus far, has impacted their capital program. I think it might be a fair characterization to say that B.C. Ferries is hopeful and optimistic that some of the earlier announcements that they’ve made could be further amended. But that’s the information I have at this point.

A. Olsen:

I recognize that it’s very difficult to be answering these questions now, I think, in terms of what might be, and we have to see what is. However, I think the point of the question is more along the lines of just being able to articulate that my hope is that with some of the money that’s been set aside as a contingency for this government, B.C. Ferries be viewed in the light that it’s a necessary part of our transportation network, as the minister knows.

They were working towards upgrading, in their capital plan. It’s to ensure the sustainability of that system for the users. I would just voice my support, I should say, in the government making the investments in that system. If the capital plans are delayed because B.C. Ferries had to use money that it had or whatever the situation is, I’m voicing my support that we ensure that those capital plans continue as best as we possibly can. I’ll just leave it at that now.

The member from Sea to Sky was talking about the bus transportation on the Sea to Sky. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a similar situation in terms of the distance but in the connectivity from greater Victoria out to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, including the Victoria Airport Authority area. I know the minister and I have had some initial conversations, since his appointment in this file, about the potential of a rapid bus, or at least the advocacy for a rapid bus, on the Saanich Peninsula. I’m just wondering if the minister can highlight any plans there might be in terms of advancing that and what the philosophy is around it and what we might see, going forward?

[4:25 p.m.]

Hon. R. Fleming:

Thank you to the member for the question. I think it’s, really, a couple parts. One is around Highway 17 physical improvements, along the lines of the queue-jumpers at Sayward. We’re just in the planning stage right now around Mt. Newton. For any additional initiatives that would help facilitate the speed at which bus service is improve on Highway 17, there is an opportunity with that. We’ll keep the member apprised of the planning exercise on that, when it becomes available.

In terms of rapid transit corridors that are identified by B.C. Transit and approved by the transit commission board, the Saanich Peninsula features very prominently in that, along with the West Shore and along with rapid bus that’s connected to the University of Victoria.

There is a new local area plan exercise that B.C. Transit is going to be leading with a spotlight on the Saanich Peninsula. The process is in the very early stages right now. It is seen as a multi-month process, but it is in this fiscal plan, in this fiscal year. We’ll keep the member apprised of that as well.

I would say that I’m encouraged to have received correspondence recently from the CRD’s transportation committee that aligns perfectly with the types of strategic priorities that B.C. Transit has already identified. I think, in terms of having the regional district and B.C. Transit both identifying what are priorities, including improved bus service for the Saanich Peninsula, serving the areas that the member identified, is a good and recent occurrence. I was pleased to receive that from the CRD.

[4:30 p.m.]

A. Olsen:

I’m pleased that you received that from the CRD. That’s great news. I certainly appreciate the distinction. I think when I was originally having this conversation, in years past, that there was a perspective that perhaps more lanes, etc. Really, what happened at Sayward, that infrastructure upgrade at Sayward, is in line with what’s needed.

I’ve lived my whole life on the Saanich Peninsula. To at least get the buses out in front of traffic would be a really tremendous start. I know that the business community is in support of this work and in support of investments that would be made on that corridor. The business community…. A substantive portion of the industrial lands in the capital regional district are in Keating and, as well, on the Sidney airport lands — the Sidney airport–North Saanich business park.

There’s about $1 billion worth of economic activity that’s generated there every year. There’s a lot of commuting into that area, and I think that this would be a really, really positive investment for the business community. As well, I think the business community would see that as an investment in their longevity in the area. I really encourage that continuing at the CRD level, and as well, with the provincial government.

One of the issues that’s been raised with me by the former member for Saanich North and the Islands and now my colleague, the CRD director, Gary Holman, is around the lack of recognition of the southern Gulf Islands. Saltspring Island is his responsibility, but the southern Gulf Islands as a whole, as part of the southern Vancouver Island transportation study and the lack of planning outside of the greater Victoria area and not including the southern Gulf Islands.

We have a situation where the southern Gulf Islands are rural, and they’re classified as urban. They’re in this mix. Sometimes they’re included, and sometimes they’re not. What we normally see in Transportation estimates are MLAs getting up from every single region in the province, talking about road maintenance, road surface. The maintenance budgets are never big enough. The resurfacing plans are never aggressive enough. We can never keep up.

On the southern Gulf Islands, we’ve got a pretty substantive challenge that comes to road surface, road maintenance and road upgrades. As the minister knows, we’ve talked about Fulford-Ganges as being, probably, the most travelled.

I’m just wondering if the minister can talk about the plans in general. I know there are going to be MLAs across the province that have road surface, road maintenance challenges. Perhaps the minister can talk a little bit about his philosophy in terms of whether or not asphalt is the solution. Perhaps there are other road surface applications that can be used that could extend the life of the road and also diminish the cost to the provincial government and how that could be rolled out across the province to, I think, alleviate some of the challenges we face from constituents who are reminding us that their roads are less than what they would expect them to be.

[4:35 p.m.]

Hon. R. Fleming:

Member, just to the question…. I mean, there’s a couple of parts to the question. One was specifically about the general problem of road maintenance, which is felt by MLAs from all parties and all regions around the province. I’m pleased to say you have kicked off, in the discussion under these estimates…. I look forward to more.

What I would go back to are some points I made at the beginning of the estimates that are very strong around the budget at hand, including, on the capital side, $819 million for highway corridor rehabilitation. That is all about resurfacing, in some cases, bridge rehabilitation, thousands of bridges, replacement, in some cases, and seismic upgrades.

Also a very significant enhancement in side-road improvements, which is important in communities around B.C. That can include everything from gravelling, drainage, road base improvements, shoulder improvements, culvert replacement. Of course, in some parts of the province, we’re moving to a much higher climate resilience standard to prevent weather patterns that have been significantly changed.

Regarding Mayne Island…. There are some seal-coating projects coming up on Mayne Island, which I think the member will be very pleased to hear about. He’s probably already aware, knowing that he knows the contractor there.

Fulford-Ganges. Of course, we heard very clearly that one of the most important things around that very travelled route is to have space for other road users, specifically cyclists and pedestrians. So that’s part of the improvements that we want to make on that road.

Then the member asked a good question about asphalt and whether there are other longer life or more environmentally-friendly technologies. We’re in an interesting time right now. The road-building industry is embracing alternatives. We’re certainly working with new technologies like microsealing and seal-coating on a significant number of kilometres now of road maintenance.

The recycling of asphalt. So you don’t bring in new material. You reuse it. You extend its life. It’s both cost-effective and has a much lower impact on the environment because it doesn’t require the new use of as much asphalt, oil and hydrocarbons, which are part of the ingredients of asphalt.

[4:40 p.m.]

A. Olsen:

I appreciate that. As always, I would advance the southern Gulf Islands as a fantastic place to pilot these new technologies. There are kilometres of road very close to the capital region here and the capital for the minister to pilot those projects. The people of the southern Gulf Islands would be very pleased to welcome you to the island.

Earlier the minister mentioned that there hasn’t been a question on the Broadway subway. Is that correct? No questions yet, so let’s ask one. This will be my final question, then I’ll turn it over to my colleague from the Cowichan Valley.

We know that there are 56,000 students and 15,000 faculty and staff that head out to UBC. It’s the Lower Mainland’s third-largest employment centre. Daytime population of the campus is about 75,000 people. The current project is funded from VCC-Clark station to Broadway and Arbutus, and then it will be connected further from the 99 B-line from Arbutus to the University of British Columbia.

I’m just wondering if the minister can provide an update on the funding opportunities that are looked at to complete the expansion all the way to UBC, if there’s any thought of doing that. What’s the timeline for this project to be completed, and where does the project stand currently?

[4:45 p.m.]

Hon. R. Fleming:

A big question and a great question, because we have hit some significant project milestones with the Broadway to Arbutus line this year — perfect timing in terms of creating skilled jobs under community benefits agreement. Lots of young workers will get their first opportunity to work on a major project like this. Indigenous youth, women, underrepresented people in the trades will benefit from this $2.8 billion project.

Of course, it comes at a great time for creating jobs and activating supply chains and helping local contractors of all types. The number of jobs it will support, both directly and indirectly, is in the thousands, which is great. Tunnel boring will begin next year. The project will be complete by 2025, which is a long way of saying that the road to UBC from Clark Street goes through Arbutus. So that is indeed phase 1, with six stations that provide considerable opportunities, working with the city of Vancouver, to build things like affordable housing and add to the job corridor that goes down Broadway.

Your question was a good one, and it comes exactly at the time that the TransLink Mayors Council is sitting down to create a new ten-year transportation investment plan. We gave them an extra year, under the severity of COVID, to deliver that to the provincial government. Undoubtedly, the discussion will be about when and how to create a phase 2 of the Broadway line that would go out to UBC.

We’ve heard advocacy from UBC. We’ve certainly held a number of meetings with the city of Vancouver and with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. Minister Heyman would be very critically involved, too, as the Minister Responsible for TransLink, on some of those discussions. Right now, in terms of what exists around the concept of that, there is a pre-business-plan case that was done by TransLink that envisions some of the benefits, the challenges and very rough outlines of cost for what would be phase 2 of the Broadway subway out to UBC.

But I will add, too, that it was very welcome news, just a few months ago from the federal government and Minister McKenna, that the government of Canada was creating something that I think a lot of people had advocated for a long time, which is the permanent transit fund — $15 billion. That will come into effect in a few years’ time, but in the meantime, there is also money for projects like the one the member mentioned.

He will know that, I think, what is the most exciting thing on the most immediate horizon. Besides the project we just started on Broadway out to Arbutus, we’re hoping for some federal partnership on the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain, which would be a very significant project as well. It would represent the first mass transit expansion south of the Fraser in 30 years. I think it’s fair to say that the TransLink Mayors Council continues to hold that as their highest priority. We’re working with important officials and mayors around the table at the TransLink Mayors Council on exactly that right now.

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