Trans­porta­tion plan may be a no go

Cap­i­tal bud­get projects come in at an es­ti­mated cost of $144.8 mil­lion for 2019-20

StarMetro Halifax - - SPORTS - Zane Wood­ford STARMETRO HAL­I­FAX ZANE WOOD­FORD thes­tar.com/hal­i­fax

The idea of com­muter rail pos­si­bly hap­pen­ing in Hal­i­fax has been on and off the rails for the past few years, but it’s never been closer to re­al­ity. The de­tails aren’t pub­lic, but the coun­cil­lor lead­ing the charge says com­muter rail in Hal­i­fax has never been closer to a re­al­ity.

Re­gional coun­cil re­ceived an in-cam­era up­date on com­muter rail at its meet­ing on Tues­day. The dis­cus­sion lasted just over an hour be­hind closed doors. Be­cause it was just an in­for­ma­tion re­port, there was no vote on the sub­ject. Coun­cil voted in 2016 to ex­plore the idea of a part­ner­ship with Via Rail to cre­ate a com­muter rail sys­tem tak­ing pas­sen­gers from Wind­sor Junc­tion to down­town Hal­i­fax, with stops along the way in Bed­ford and else­where, on tracks owned by Cana­dian Na­tional Rail­way.

The Via pro­posal, which was un­so­licited, fol­lowed a 2015 fea­si­bil­ity study that said com­muter rail was too ex­pen­sive, with ini­tial costs of be­tween $36 and $72 mil­lion in ad­di­tion to an­nual op­er­at­ing costs of $8 mil­lion. By the num­bers, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity can’t af­ford to im­ple­ment the am­bi­tious trans­porta­tion plan coun­cil ap­proved last year.

Ac­cord­ing to ad­vo­cates, it can’t af­ford not to.

Re­gional coun­cil’s com­mit­tee of the whole was set to de­bate Hal­i­fax’s pre­lim­i­nary 2019-20 cap­i­tal bud­get on Tues­day, but de­ferred the dis­cus­sion to Jan­uary to give coun­cil­lors time to dig into the num­bers and ask ques­tions of mu­nic­i­pal staffers.

The cap­i­tal bud­get, sep­a­rate from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s op­er­at­ing bud­get, is a list of projects that Hal­i­fax will spend money on next year. Those projects add up to $144.8 mil­lion, up from Among the projects un­funded in the pre­lim­i­nary 2019-20 cap­i­tal bud­get is $6.35 mil­lion in ac­tive trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture.

$128.6 mil­lion this year.

But there’s another $21.8 mil­lion in projects that can’t be ac­com­mo­dated with­out bud­get cuts or a tax hike — and that’s on top of the tax hike needed to cover the op­er­at­ing bud­get, which staff rec­om­mend to be 2.9 per cent to the av­er­age tax bill.

Of that $21.8 mil­lion, about

half rep­re­sents projects linked to the In­te­grated Mo­bil­ity Plan (IMP), the am­bi­tious trans­porta­tion plan unan­i­mously ap­proved by re­gional coun­cil one year ago Wed­nes­day.

The over­ar­ch­ing goal of the IMP is to re­duce the per­cent­age of Haligo­ni­ans com­mut­ing by car ev­ery day. WWW.THES­TAR.COM

In 2014, Hal­i­fax set a goal to re­duce that num­ber to a max­i­mum of 70 per cent.

Be­tween 2006 and 2011, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, that num­ber went up — from

75 to 77 per cent — and it re­mained high, at 77.7 per cent, in 2016.

The to­tal cost of the IMP will add up to $190 mil­lion by the time it’s fully im­ple­mented, but the fi­nal re­port on the plan said those projects will save the mu­nic­i­pal­ity from hav­ing to spend $750 mil­lion on roads to ac­com­mo­date more and more ve­hi­cles.

Among the projects un­funded in the pre­lim­i­nary

2019-2020 cap­i­tal bud­get is $6.35 mil­lion in ac­tive trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture — all ages and abil­i­ties (AAA) cy­cling lanes and side­walks.

Com­muter rail was the topic of dis­cus­sion be­hind closed doors at re­gional coun­cil

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