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Tri-Cities have been priming for Evergreen Line since 90s: Port Moody mayor

Mayor Mike Clay and transit experts expect Evergreen Line to have high ridership immediate after it opens Friday due to decades of planning.

A SkyTrain runs along the Evergreen line along North Road on Nov. 29, 2016.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

A SkyTrain runs along the Evergreen line along North Road on Nov. 29, 2016.

Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay has full confidence ridership on the Evergreen Line will be high when it finally opens Friday.

After all, Tri-Cities communities have been planning and building for rapid transit since the 90s, when the line was originally announced and slated to open in 2000.

Developments have increased in density as young families have moved in and changed the complexion of formerly sleepy, car-dominated suburban neighbourhoods.

The only thing missing in these transit-oriented communities is the transit.

Which is why Clay says the $1.4 billion Evergreen Line is a game-changer.

“We’ve grown ahead of transit in this case, for sure,” Clay told Metro. “It was first slated for 2000. That’s 16 years ago. It would have been helpful, if not necessary then. Now, it’s not only necessary but long overdue.”

In the 90s, Port Moody approved 7,000 to 8,000 homes along the originally slated Evergreen route.

Burned by constant delays, Clay said council bunkered down into “no new homes mode” until confirmation of the Evergreen Line was reaffirmed.

Now the city has 24 smaller multiple-family developments sitting before the city’s planning department and up to three more high-density village proposals that are nearing the application phase.

Large urban villages, meanwhile, have been sprouting up all over Coquitlam in advance of the Evergreen Line.

So when TransLink estimates some 70,000 people will eventually use the Evergreen Line daily, Clay has no reason to doubt them.

“TransLink has some high numbers and some people have been skeptical but I think [ridership] is going to be towards the higher end of those projections,” he said. “That will drive our future planning and what kind of density and development we need before we reach saturation point.”

The city’s population is expected to grow by up to 40 per cent in the next 20 to 30 years.

“The reality is we’re not the little suburban enclave that we were when my parents or grandparents moved to Port Moody. The whole Lower Mainland is a very different place,” Clay said. “It’s going to grow, obviously. People are going to have to adjust their lifestyles. What we are going to be more aware of is perceptions and concerns that precede reality, people saying, ‘you can’t possibly put another 10,000 people in this city’. There’s no way to pre-assure people. I think we have development plans that are strategic and move in a direction towards our general vision without being hasty or not well thought out.”

With Metro Vancouver expected to grow by a million people by 2040, Simon Fraser University associate professor of urban studies Peter Hall says Port Moody will see growth regardless of the Evergreen Line.

The question is how to manage the growth, and access to rapid transit helps.

“A transit line is going to have more influence on where growth takes place and the nature of that growths than the actual level of growth,” said Hall. “In the case of the Evergreen Line, that’s actually been clear in advance of the opening. The existing demand for the service is already in place. I think ridership is gong to be quite high.”

Clay, for one, will be celebrating this weekend.

"I think the challenges and any downsides to this are behind us," he said. "The construction is over and now we’re looking at the benefits and the opportunities this brings to our community and businesses."

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