The first major move towards implementing a different type of rail transit in the South of Fraser was made this evening.
And it is no longer street-level light rail transit (LRT).
During their inaugural meeting, the newly-elected members of Surrey City Council, dominated by re-elected Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, unanimously approved a motion to cancel the $1.65-billion Surrey Newton-Guildford (SNG) LRT line.
The decision to reverse course was met with applauses and cheers from the full house audience inside City Council chambers.
Cancelling the LRT project during the first City Council meeting was one of McCallum’s party’s largest platform promises, and this is now the official position of the City of Surrey.
“Everyone I heard they just want what the rest of the region has, which is SkyTrain,” said McCallum. “We want Surrey to be connected to the rest of the region… to be able to go from Clayton out to the airport for example, for the youth in Clayton and Fleetwood to go to schools in Vancouver or Burnaby, or in Surrey in our city centre.”
“We heard loud and clear from the people. I don’t recall any major infrastructure program that has so big of a public support as SkyTrain.”
City Councillor Allison Patton went as far to say that “this is a historic day for all of us and we will only appreciate its significance in hindsight.”
With the motion’s passing, City Council has ordered municipal government staff to stop all work on the SNG LRT and instead immediately start working with TransLink to extend SkyTrain’s Expo Line along Fraser Highway from the existing terminus at King George Station to Langley Centre.
The City will also request TransLink’s Mayors’ Council to cancel the SNG LRT and reallocate Phase Two funds towards starting the SkyTrain extension to Langley as soon as possible.
Additionally, the City will request the Mayors’ Council to secure funding for Phase III of the transit expansion plan in order to complete all 27 kms of rapid transit in Surrey and Langley.
“It was only a few months ago that Surrey was well on its way with having an LRT system, and tonight that decision is completely reversed because the citizens of Surrey were listened to and instead they wanted the SkyTrain to continue through Surrey to Langley,” said Councillor Laurie Guerra, who ended her comments by jubilantly declaring “Go Surrey! Go SkyTrain!”
Moments after City Council’s decision, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond issued a statement that announced the suspension of all planning work for SNG LRT and the current Request For Qualifications bidding process for private contractors. The work is being paused “while we await direction from the Mayors’ Council and the TransLink Board.”
McCallum will deliver the City of Surrey’s new position on rail transit during the inaugural Mayors’ Council meeting scheduled for November 15. While he can count on the support of the mayors of Vancouver and both Langleys, several mayors in a few select municipalities have already publicly stated their opposition due to the higher cost of SkyTrain.
Early estimates by an independent study commissioned by TransLink peg the cost of a 16-km-long, eight-station SkyTrain extension along Fraser Highway to Langley Centre at about $2.9 billion if construction were to begin in 2022, but this also includes a new train maintenance yard and a generous 25% contingency fund totalling $725 million. Without the contingency, the SkyTrain extension’s real cost is $2.175 billion.
The LRT option cost for the Fraser Highway route is $1.95 billion, including a 25% contingency. The real cost of LRT without the contingency is $1.463 billion.
The travel time of the Fraser Highway SkyTrain option is 22 minutes, while the LRT option is up to 35 minutes.
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