Last-ditch pitch for transportation authority in region

The Capital Regional District is making a last-gasp attempt to get buy-in from local municipalities to establish a new transportation authority.

Following board direction, CRD chairman Steve Price has written to all 13 area municipalities asking for support within the next 45 days for the new service he says is needed to provide a regional voice to senior government on transportation issues.

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“Transportation is a growing issue in our communities,” Price says in his letter.

“Residents are fed up with congestion and limited transportation choices and are calling on government to take action.”

However, likelihood of the necessary approval of all 13 local municipalities seems slim, especially given worries by municipalities including Langford and Colwood that the new service would only duplicate services already provided by the province and municipalities. There is also the worry that costs could increase in the future.

The new service budget is set at a maximum of $2.5 million, pared back from $10 million. Staff say any increases would have to go through the same process as establishment of the authority.

Both Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton and Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell remained skeptical at the CRD board meeting last week.

Langford council unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming support instead for a no-cost advisory transportation committee. It would not support the new service unless there were a way to opt out and called on the CRD to provide the funding allocation for the new service for the next five years, said Blackwell.

View Royal Mayor David Screech, CRD vice chair, said he doesn’t understand the reluctance of some municipalities to get involved in a service that is so clearly needed.

“All the fears that we’re hearing are all hypothetical ‘what-ifs’ that could happen down the road,” Screech said. “I don’t know how anyone in this region can think that the status quo is working. Transportation in this region is a complete and utter disaster and it’s ridiculous. This is a regional problem. It’s not Langford. It’s not Colwood,” he said.

In order to create a new service, the CRD must gain approval through a referendum, through an alternate approval process such as a counter petition or by receiving the approval of all municipal councils and conducting an alternate approval process in the electoral areas.

CRD staff had recommended a counter petition. It’s a process in which the service would be established unless 10 per cent of the population signs a petition against it. That process would take between three and five months and cost about $12,000.

A referendum would take four to six months and likely cost more than $200,000. Conducting a referendum in conjunction with local government elections in October is not likely to save much money, staff said. The CRD cannot require municipalities to participate, nor can it be assured that the same question would be asked throughout the region.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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