Surrey, B.C. has scrapped plans for light rail transit (LRT) to Guildford and Newton in favour of extending its SkyTrain to Langley.
The shift is now being supported by other mayors in Metro Vancouver.
A report on options for the SkyTrain is expected at the next Mayors’ Council meeting in the coming weeks.
“We have a golden opportunity to move forward and start building in this region,” said newly-elected Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum during a 14-minute speech at a meeting of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.
“There wasn’t public consulting done. This was all decided by the past council. That’s why they were defeated. They didn’t listen to the public. And I will also say TransLink did not listen to the public.”
In an interview with the Journal of Commerce, Kelly Scott, president of the BC Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, said while he supports and respects the decision of voters and elected officials, the sudden change in plans creates uncertainty in the industry.
“With these delays, the industry starts to wonder,” Scott said. “The industry is always looking for certainty when work is going to be forthcoming. To us, Surrey LRT was moving its way forward and now it has disappeared. We are builders and we bring our best value to the owners when we can do some planning.”
Scott added in the past, the construction industry was spoiled with the Olympic years and then the new Port Mann Bridge, but now major projects have slowed.
“We have had a delay on pipelines, a delay in the George Massey Bridge project and now a hiccup on the LRT in Surrey,” Scott said.
“We do have the LNG project in Kitimat, which is terrific news, but if you are on the outside looking at B.C. and looking at where the industry is going, there have been some slowdowns.”
The mayors have officially endorsed McCallum’s plan to scrap the LRT which was a key part of his Safe Surrey Coalition’s platform during the October election.
Surrey City Council convened a council meeting soon after McCallum took the oath of office where a motion was introduced and passed unanimously to cancel the LRT plans.
According to the city, engineering and transportation staff have already started work on the SkyTrain project.
“Just as Surrey City Council has moved quickly on the wishes of our residents, I want to thank the members of the Mayors’ Council for dealing with this important issue in such a timely manner,” said McCallum in a press release following the Mayors’ Council decision. “Today’s decision at Mayors’ Council fits well with the Mayors’ Council’s 10 Year Plan, which the City of Surrey fully supports, as SkyTrain is a known and proven technology and is the only rapid transit technology deployed in the entire Metro Vancouver region.”
During the meeting, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie was critical of the decision, explaining that one city forcing the entire region to redo its long-term plans was concerning.
“I think this approach is setting a dangerous precedent,” said Brodie. “I’m open to the idea of making a change and we need a full analysis of that change.”
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he supports the voters of Surrey who elected McCallum on his SkyTrain promise.
“Democratic principles trump past work,” he said.
Officials anticipated the LRT would have cost $1.65 billion.
According to Mayors’ Council documents, a report by engineering firm Steer Davies Gleave and Hatch, commissioned by TransLink last year, shows the SkyTrain extension could cost $2.9 billion. McCallum has disagreed, saying publicly he could get it completed for the same price as the LRT.
The LRT project had been many years in the making.
The 10-year vision called for 27 kilometres of new LRT to be constructed, connecting Surrey-Central to Newton, Guildford and Langley City. The vision established the Surrey-Newton-Guildford corridors as the first stage of the project. The Mayors’ Council anticipated this phase of the project would be completed by 2024.
The Surrey to Langley construction would be built several years later.
The 10-year plan was established after reviewing rapid transit studies during the first half of 2014. The analysis reviewed over 1,000 technology and route combinations to develop a shortlist of four options. Within the shortlist of alternatives, the technology options for the Surrey-Newton-Guildford corridor included only LRT or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) due to the estimated future capacity needs.
On the Surrey to Langley corridor, the shortlist included all three rapid transit technologies: BRT, LRT or SkyTrain.