– $16 million for Lougheed Highway bus lanes

Maple Ridge News

By Phil Melnychuk

The bundle of cash announced by senior governments Friday included a whopping $16 million for a 2.2-kilometre RapidBus lane from Golden Ears Bridge to Harris Road.

Now, if only they had the buses to put on it.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean appreciates the money, but admits it came as a surprise and raises a few questions.

“I’m just a little confused. It seems once again the government is not speaking with TransLink in putting together these plans.”

MacLean said there’s still no money to complete the Evergreen SkyTrain line, which will run in Coquiltam. If the Evergreen line is ever built, a future extension could run to Port Coquitlam and allow a future connection with a RapidBus from Pitt Meadows.

And TransLink’s funding crunch means there’s likely no money to acquire additional buses to take advantage of a RapidBus line.

“I’m not unhappy about this. It’s a pleasant surprise, but very few details,” MacLean added.

“To my knowledge, there was no discussion with council or staff.”

MacLean had a few more questions, such as when the RapidBus lane will be built, will the No. 701 or No. 595 run on it, and will buses run in both directions.

Two of TransLink’s possible three budget plans provide no funding for RapidBus lanes, said MacLean, who was to speak with Transportation Minister Shirley Bond on Tuesday.

Transportation ministry spokesman Jeff Knight said the bus lane will run westbound only and there are no plans for an eastbound lane on the south side of Lougheed Highway. He said any plans to create a bus exchange along Lougheed on land owned by mall developer SmartCentres is up to TransLink.

The developer hasn’t yet applied to build any project. The aim is to extend the lane farther west to the Pitt River Bridge, but that’s a long-term goal.

MacLean pointed out the government is using the infrastructure funding to pay for a part of its $14-billion Provincial Transit Plan, announced in January 2008.

RapidBus lanes in the Lower Mainland were part of that plan. They can be used as the first stage in creating a rapid transit corridor, which can be converted to either SkyTrain or light rail transit. The new bridge can be expanded to eight lanes to accommodate a rapid transit lane.

However, the initial Provincial Transit Plan foresaw RapidBus lanes only through Pitt Meadows, from the Golden Ears Bridge west, skipping any link to Maple Ridge. At the time, former mayor Gordy Robson said then transportation minister Kevin Falcon later agreed that RapidBus would be extended to Maple Ridge.

Maple Ridge already has identified a rapid transit corridor to the downtown, mainly along Lougheed Highway.

Knight said the RapidBus lane project will give buses signal priority over traffic on Lougheed Highway.

The announcement isn’t just a general statement. With the money committed by both the federal and provincial governments, there’s also a deadline for completion, March 2011. Construction starts in spring 2010.

“This is really meant to help with the transit needs of the community,” said Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton.

“By assisting this community in developing their infrastructure we are not only building great places to live, but we are also stimulating the local economy,” MP Randy Kamp said in a release. “All of these projects are critical to the development of the region and this round of funding will help to complete them in a timely manner.”

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