As reported in an earlier post, Victoria councillors will decide whether to include the E&N railway on the new Johnson Street Bridge in a special council meeting, this Friday, February 4th, at 8am.
In advance of this important meeting, the City has posted a project charter outlining the goals and process of the construction, and a staff report with recommendations. The Charter outlines how the project will be overseen by a steering committee made up of four City managers, giving them power to make “significant scope changes” in the project. Of more immediate concern, however, are the recommendations in the staff report regarding the railway:
The City has made considerable efforts to secure other sources of funding for the rail component. An application has been submitted to the Union of BC Municipalities for $6.5 million of the $12 million required in funding from the General Strategic Priorities Fund of the Gas Tax Agreement towards the rail component of the Project. According to UBCM, a decision on City’s funding application will not be made until late spring or summer …. Awaiting a funding decision on the City’s application for the rail component will cause delay in the project schedule as detailed design will be delayed. The implication of delay could also impact the cost of the project and may jeopardize the $21 million of federal funding. However, a rail corridor will be preserved for future use consistent with the City’s Official Community Plan.
It is recommended that:
1. The rail component will not be included at this time, but that a rail corridor will be preserved;
2. The Project Charter attached to this report be approved.
The report and recommendations raise questions. As the program guidelines for the General Strategic Priorities Fund – published in September 2010 – made clear, early applications were due February 1, and the bulk of applications weren’t due until April 29. How could City staff not know that funding decisions wouldn’t be made until at least May 2011? And if they did know, why didn’t they warn the Capital Regional District directors, who unanimously prioritized the City’s gas-tax application, that the City might later pull the application because the City couldn’t wait for it to be heard? And if the Mayor knew all this, why didn’t he tell the public before the referendum?
The City’s recommendation to kill the downtown rail connection could seriously threaten the Island Corridor Foundation’s plans for commuter rail on the Island, recently elaborated upon in the Cowichan News Leader:
January 31, 2011. Recent face-to-face meetings between Island Corridor Foundation’s Graham Bruce and government leaders could engineer cash for crucial passenger-rail upgrades by year’s end.
Upbeat Bruce met last month locally with federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl about plans to revamp rails between Victoria and Courtenay toward realistic daily service for commuters and others.
MP Jean Crowder wrote Strahl Dec. 2, urging “serious investment” in the aging E&N line ….
Phase one of a $15-million revamp of rail ties and ballast for passenger rail would see Via’s main terminus moved to Nanaimo from Victoria, and offer early-morning southbound service.
It would end with a late afternoon run from the capital to Nanaimo, explained Bruce ….
B.C.’s transport minister Shirley Bond has ridden the train to Victoria, Bruce said, and was likewise impressed by its scenic efficiency that could pull carbon-spewing vehicles from the highway.
Crowder agreed, noting better rail service would spell needed jobs.
“Rail will provide an important, environmentally sound commuter option that’s in keeping with Canada’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint,” she wrote Strahl.
All this work could be lost if Victoria’s councillors vote to approve City staff’s recommendations to kill the rail this Friday.Tweet