It's official: TransLink's Mayors' Council suspends Surrey LRT in favour of SkyTrain

Nov 15 2018, 6:39 pm

Following some extremely heated debates and discussions, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council has voted to formally suspend all planning and further expenditures on planning for the Surrey Newton-Guildford (SNG) light rail transit (LRT) project.

This follows a recommendation forwarded to the Mayors’ Council by TransLink’s staff and its board of directors in response to the new Surrey City Council’s decision to oppose the project earlier this month.

It also recognizes the City of Surrey’s request to change the technology and the timing of the Fraser Highway project from LRT to SkyTrain, but with the stipulation that the project only uses the funding envelope currently allocated for South of Fraser rapid transit projects. This funding totals $3.5 billion when both Phase Two and Phase Three plans are combined. The 10-year plan will be reworked to include a SkyTrain extension in Surrey.

This means SNG LRT is now effectively dead.

With that said, at this time, only the $1.65-billion in Phase One funding, previously directed to SNG LRT, has been secured. TransLink and the Mayors’ Council still need to continue their work on securing the additional $1.9 billion in Phase Three funding that would have been dedicated to Fraser Highway LRT.

But today’s approval allows TransLink to start of planning and research on the SkyTrain project, and additional details for the immediate next steps will be provided to the Mayors’ Council for further consideration at the next meeting scheduled for December 13.

“We cannot advance a LRT project unless we have an active and willing partner in Surrey to champion LRT,” said Geoff Cross, the Vice President of Planning and Policy for TransLink, during the meeting.

“We have suspended all expenditures, efforts, and resources on that. It enables all proponents putting in bids to put their pens down as well.”

This switch in projects and technologies will not affect other transit projects in Phase Two, including new and improved bus service such as five additional B-Line routes.

But not everyone was convinced that a reversal on the project is the right position.

“Are staff really recommending that because of an election, after all we’ve gone through, we make this switch? This approach is setting a very dangerous precedent. I can tell you that if our City Council in Richmond, if our wishes were adhered to, we’d have a ground-level system for the Canada Line,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

“It didn’t work out, and this was the only option we ended up having and we made it work. But the fact is our City Council wanted something at ground level, and TransLink didn’t come back and flip the switch… for a ground level system.”

SNG LRT was expected to cost $1.65 billion, running a length of 11 kms along the Newton and Guildford corridors. About $77 million or 5% of the SNG LRT budget has already been spent on planning and pre-construction work.

Previous early estimates for the 16-km-long Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension from King George Station to Langley Centre — assuming a 2022 construction start date — peg the project at $2.9 billion, including a 25% contingency.

A report by TransLink staff forwarded to the Mayors’ Council prior to the meeting suggested that SkyTrain to Langley Centre would likely have to be built in two phases, following the timelines of Phase Two and Phase Three funding.

Early in the meeting, the Mayors’ Council elected New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote as its new chair and Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese as its new vice-chair.

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