A funding commitment request of $550 million has been suggested to the federal government to help cover the cost of building SkyTrain extension between Fleetwood in Surrey and Langley Centre.
Tako Van Popta, the Conservative MP for the riding of Langley-Aldergrove, spoke in the House of Commons last week, and asked the federal government to offer its position on the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project, specifically the unfunded nine-km-long, four-station second phase east of Fleetwood to reach Langley Centre.
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This second phase of the project is expected to cost about $1.5 billion, while the first phase between the existing King George Station and Fleetwood is approximately $1.6 billion. The first phase — seven kms with four stations — entirely depends on the reallocation of funding from the cancelled Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT.
As a key campaign promise in the recent provincial election, the BC NDP majority provincial government vowed to expedite the entire $3.1-billion, 16-km-long Expo Line extension in a single phase instead of two phases.
This will be accomplished by not only the promise of additional provincial funding, but also absorbing the project as a BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure responsibility, and seeking a federal funding commitment. Currently, the project is being planned by TransLink.
“That brings to my ask, and that is for a federal funding commitment to extend the SkyTrain, from the eastern end of it, which is in downtown Surrey, to bring it all the way to downtown Langley,” said Van Popta.
“There are federal, provincial, and municipal funding commitments to build the first phase of that to the Fleetwood area of Surrey, but we are looking for another $550 million from the federal government to extend it all the way into Langley.”
Van Popta presented the rationale to build the continuous project, noting the region’s high normal transit ridership fuelled by high-density, transit-oriented developments around stations, the region’s geographical constraints that limit growth by urban sprawl, and the potential to use the new transit connection to catalyze new more affordable housing options.
“There is nowhere to go, except up. And we do that very well… The SkyTrain, contrary to other transit systems in North America, has an ever-increasing transit ridership and that is because the focus on transit-oriented development,” he continued.
“Hundreds of thousands of people now live an elevator ride and about 400 steps from the nearest SkyTrain station. If you fly into Vancouver on a clear day, you can see exactly where the SkyTrain route is from the cluster of high-rises that spring up in close proximity to a SkyTrain station.”
Van Popta also noted that in his prior discussions with Mike Buda, the executive director of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council, there is a strong desire from the public transit authority to continue building the second half of the project immediately. Constructing it in one continuous phase would activate economies of scale, effectively lowering overall construction costs.
In response to Van Popta’s question, Andy Fillmore, the Liberal MP for the riding of Halifax and the Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Communities, said the federal government supports the project in principle, and is still in the process of reviewing the business case for the first phase to Fleetwood.
An approval of the business case would formalize the transfer of funding for the cancelled LRT to the SkyTrain project.
“We’re working closely with our provincial counterparts to perform due diligence and analyze the business case that has been submitted by our provincial partner to ensure value for taxpayer money,” said Fillmore.
“We look forward to getting it built, creating jobs, reducing emissions, and helping people get around their communities faster.”
As of earlier this fall, TransLink’s timeline for the project is to begin the procurement process of selecting a construction contractor in early 2021. Construction would begin in 2022 for an opening in 2025, the same year the Millennium Line Broadway Extension to Arbutus will open.
The full extension between King George Station and 203 Street in Langley Centre will carry a 22-minute travel time. On a transfer-less, one-train Expo Line ride from Waterfront Station, it will take 50 minutes to reach 166 Street Station in Fleetwood and about one hour to reach 203 Street.
Average weekday boardings on this Expo Line extension segment will reach 62,000 by 2035.