Light rail in Surrey is officially dead on arrival, after a vote by Metro Vancouver mayors in favour of SkyTrain at their first post-election gathering.
The vote was made at a packed four-hour meeting of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation on Thursday in New Westminster.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, whose Safe Surrey coalition won the Oct. 20 municipal election on a promise to cancel light rail in favour of SkyTrain, had made a lengthy appeal for the change.
“We did extensive consulting… I did not see on single person who was for light rail,” said McCallum. “It was all, all for SkyTrain.
“Our goal was to support the 10-year plan, but change the technology from light rail to SkyTrain. We also wanted to switch the money that was allocated for light rail… to SkyTrain and that was passed today.”
The mayors’ council had allocated $1.65 billion for the Surrey-Newton-Guildford section of light rail, which would have spanned 10.5 kilometres and had a completion date of 2024.
The provincial and federal governments have each committed 40 per cent of the capital costs as for the $7.3-billion second phase of the mayors’10-year transportation plan, with the region paying the remaining 20 per cent.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie fiercely opposed the decision to “throw away” years of work and millions of dollars already spent on exploring light rail.
“Surely we’re going to have to have the same analysis to change this decision to SkyTrain as we had to make it LRT,” Brodie said.
“The fact is we don’t have enough money in this phase. How are we going to do it? We need to know about the additional cost for the new approach.”
But Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said mayors should be guided by the past council’s decision, not bound by it.
“The people of Surrey, though a democratic process, have come forward and said, ‘We want this change,’” Stewart said.
The question remains on cost
TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond has said senior government would agree to fund SkyTrain instead of light rail, but he was clear on Thursday that consultation, an investment plan and a business case still all had to be completed before money could change projects.
The council voted for TransLink to begin plans for a SkyTrain line connecting Surrey to Langley along Fraser Highway – something McCallum believed could be done for the $1.65 million allocated to Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail.
A light rail line along Fraser Highway was estimated at $1.95 billion, although only $30 million has been committed for pre-design work on the line.
TransLink’s latest estimate for SkyTrain along Fraser Highway, however, was $2.92 billion.
Desmond said he wasn’t sure how McCallum planned to save $965 million, saying TransLink has done the math “using widely accepted factors and methodology.”
“That said, if Surrey and [the Langleys] want us to look at an alternative construction method in order to save money, we will.”
McCallum said he was confident all 27 kilometres of rail could be built as SkyTrain, for no more than the $3.5 billion estimated for light rail in the region, with one way to do it being building it at ground level, along agricultural land by Fraser Highway.
Next steps for TransLink
The lack of details on cost estimates, design and timeline available on Thursday left some mayors concerned.
“This approach is setting a very, very dangerous precedent,” Brodie said. “It seems to me that there are a lot of aspects that we need to review,” including what would happen to the Surrey-Newton-Guildford line with money reallocated to a Fraser Highway SkyTrain.
Newly-elected council chair Jonathan Cote said Surrey rail might be in flux, but all other projects in phase two are moving ahead as scheduled.
TransLink staff will bring a “work plan” to the next mayors’ council meeting on Dec. 13, though Desmond acknowledged it was unlikely to contain any cost estimates.
He said the plan would allow mayors to make decisions on the business case and development work for a Fraser Highway SkyTrain, as well as rejigging the South of the Fraser Rapid Transit plan adopted in 2012.
More to come.
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