New SkyTrain on King George Boulevard to Newton could cost up to $1.4 billion

Jul 19 2019, 8:25 pm

While planning for the Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension from King George Station to Langley Centre has taken centre stage, some attention is now returning to re-examining how transit services can be improved on the 104 Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors — the route of the cancelled Surrey Newton-Guildford (SNG) light rail transit (LRT) project.

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TransLink says its new refresh of the South of Fraser Rapid Transit Strategy, triggered late last fall by the decision to cancel the 11-km-long SNG LRT, has produced some combination alternatives for the remaining two corridors in Surrey.

The strategy previously promised 27 km of rapid transit in the South of Fraser subregion within a $3.55-billion funding envelope. But rapid transit in the form of rail on both 104 Avenue and King George Boulevard is currently not possible without additional funding, given that the full 16-km-long Fraser Highway SkyTrain project is currently anticipated to cost $3.12 billion, leaving approximately $430 million for new investments on both corridors.

Daniel Firth, TransLink’s director of the South of Fraser Refresh, told media during a technical briefing today that these details are being provided to the Mayors’ Council — ahead of their meeting next week — to provide them with necessary context on how the Fraser Highway project will affect the direction of the overall strategy.

TransLink supports proceeding with the Expo Line extension on Fraser Highway, but the final decision to push the project further is dependent on the Mayors’ Council.

Here are four alternative options for the 104 Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors:

Option 1: Maintaining status quo B-Line

Firth said the status quo of the existing 96 B-Line bus route running on the exact same route as the cancelled SNG LRT could be maintained, with some relatively minor improvements performed with modest costs. Buses would run every six minutes.

But with growing road congestion, greater investments on transit priority may be needed to ensure speed and reliability.

The capacity of the B-Line is projected to be sufficient to meet demand for the foreseeable future, with between 22,000 and 24,000 daily riders in 2050 — up from the current daily levels of about 13,000. Comparatively, the 99 B-Line from UBC to Commercial-Broadway Station sees ridership levels of nearly 60,000 per day.

“There are some short terms improvement we could make to the existing 99 B-Line. There are also some larger improvements we could make in the future,” he said.

Existing B-Line service with some improvements is something TransLink can currently afford if the South of Fraser funding envelope is retained at $3.55 billion.

Option 2: Bus rapid transit (BRT)

A complete overhaul of the B-Line into a true BRT service along 104 Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors would cost $900 million — roughly double of the remaining available funding envelope in the strategy.

Similar to LRT, the BRT would operate in its own lanes, completely separate from other traffic to offer a faster and more reliable journey than existing B-Line routes. There would also be specially designed stops and bus vehicles to improve comfort, accessibility, and security. However, roadway priority for BRT would mean impacts to vehicle traffic.

“The line between B-Line and bus rapid transit becomes quite blurred, so we can do things that improve B-Line to the point that they would become almost as good as a BRT, but BRT is something slightly different, in particular, it would have reserved space on the road,” explained Firth.

By 2050, the higher speed, reliability, and allure of BRT compared to the B-Line is projected to attract a daily ridership of between 40,000 and 45,000 — an additional 16,000 to 30,000 over the status quo B-Line.

A five-minute frequency BRT service will mostly meet the generated demand, except for a short two-km-long section of King George Boulevard near King George Station in downtown Surrey.

TransLink could afford some BRT based on the existing funding envelope.

Option 3: SkyTrain on King George Boulevard, and B-Line on 104 Avenue

TransLink estimates a continuous southward SkyTrain extension of the Expo Line on King George Boulevard from the vicinity of King George Station to Newton will cost between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion.

In this SkyTrain option, a B-Line would run along 104 Avenue from Surrey Central Station to Guildford Town Centre. An extra sub-option of upgrading the B-Line into BRT would create an added ballpark cost of $300 million.

The SkyTrain and B-Line combination would attract a total ridership of 55,000 to 60,000 daily riders by 2050 — between 33,000 and 38,000 more riders per day than the status quo B-Line.

According to the public transit authority, this SkyTrain and BRT combination would support many objectives, creating a “‘one-seat’ ride to more destinations, where other alternatives would require a transfer that reduces ridership.”

With an elevated guideway, the impact to roadways would be lessened, and SkyTrain’s higher ridership would reduce the growth in traffic congestion.

“We investigated what a SkyTrain on King George Boulevard would do. We haven’t looked at SkyTrain on 104 Avenue because it is a very short stretch, and SkyTrain probably isn’t the most effective way to improve transit on that corridor. It also has the lowest ridership of the three corridors,” said Firth.

“The faster the transit is, the more attractive the product is, and therefore you get more riders.”

But TransLink also indicated it needs to examine in detail how a new third branch for the Expo Line (Production Way-University, Langley Centre, and Newton) will impact this SkyTrain line’s operations, reliability, and long-term capacity. With that said, there is “more than sufficient capacity” for a SkyTrain extension on King George Boulevard to meet 2050 demand.

Option 4: Revisiting street-level LRT

TransLink staff made it clear that it will not consider a revival of the street-level LRT project without the support of the City of Surrey, which is now firmly against LRT following last fall’s city council changeup.

However, it included LRT as an alternative for comparison’s sake, creating an added baseline over other alternatives.

In 2018, the SNG LRT was projected to cost $1.6 billion, but with rising construction costs it is estimated that reviving the project today would conservatively cost between $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion.

It would have higher ridership than BRT; by 2050, SNG LRT would reach a ridership level of 45,000 to 50,000 per day — between 21,000 and 33,000 more riders per day than the status quo B-Line.

The capacity created by a five-minute frequency “would be more than adequate” to meet the demand generated by the speed of the LRT. The estimated end-to-end travel time of the SNG LRT was 27 minutes, just two minutes faster than the existing B-Line.

 

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