Vancouver regional mayors approve plan to build Surrey-Langley SkyTrain

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Vancouver’s regional mayors voted, some grudgingly, to go ahead with a plan to build only the first, seven-kilometre phase of a SkyTrain line from Surrey to Langley, using the $1.63-billion that had previously been committed for more extensive light-rail lines.

But that leaves the future uncertain for many residents and businesses along two main routes in Surrey, the region’s fastest growing city, where there had been plans to have them served by light rail – plans that were upended when Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum was elected last fall on a promise to switch to a Surrey-Langley SkyTrain.

Mayors refused to go along with a staff recommendation to explore transit options for King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue connecting central Surrey to the town centres of Guildford and Newton, which planners said cost more than $3.55-billion that was originally committed to Surrey in the current transit-improvement plan.

Even Delta Mayor George Harvie, who had supported Mr. McCallum in previous votes to switch from light rail, said he had concerns that starting to plan for additional, expensive transit options in Surrey besides the already costly SkyTrain line would hurt the region over all.

“I have to have assurances that it’s not going to starve out other municipalities that need transit,” Mr. Harvie said.

In the end, he and a majority of mayors agreed to go ahead with asking the federal and provincial governments to put the $1.65-billion they had committed for light rail toward the Surrey SkyTrain, which will cover less than half the route planned to Langley.

The money needed to complete the rest of the line, another $1.79-billion, will have to come when TransLink starts to figure out how to pay for all the projects in the third phase of the mayors’ 10-year plan, they said.

Ultimately, that means there will be only about $400-million left over for TransLink planners to use for any other transit improvements in Surrey aimed at connecting town centres or providing better service to White Rock in the south.

In their report to the mayors, planners had said that money was barely enough to cover rapid buses along the two roads. They had wanted the mayors’ approval to explore the concept and cost of putting light rail or another SkyTrain extension along King George going south from central Surrey.

That kind of impact had prompted the CEO of Surrey’s Board of Trade, Anita Huberman, to make a plea to the mayors before their vote to keep to the original light-rail plan.

“Seventy-two per cent of Surrey’s population and businesses are along those roads,” Ms. Huberman said. “The decision [to switch to SkyTrain] was made without a business plan.”

A few mayors were opposed to the switch.

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little said a SkyTrain line to Langley would do nothing for Surrey or Langley because all it would do is funnel workers to downtown Vancouver, instead of helping local residents get around their own region.

“It’s 47 kilometres from downtown Vancouver to Langley so it’s encouraging suburban sprawl. It doesn’t seem to be supporting our regional growth strategy,” he said.

However, other mayors said they would support the project because that’s what Surrey residents voted for.

Some worried, however, that the second phase of the line to Langley might never get built, as future mayors’ councils or senior governments lose interest in it.

The mayor of Langley said she did not think that would happen and urged other mayors not to start backtracking on transit plans.

“I think 100 per cent we’re going to have it out to Langley city,” said Val van den Broek. “I’d hate to see this board become the next Toronto and throw out all this hard work.”