TransLink says new Surrey SkyTrain can be built within existing budgets

Nov 13 2018, 11:29 pm

During its inaugural meeting on Thursday, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council will have some big decisions to make relating to the future of rail rapid transit projects in Surrey.

A report by TransLink management that will be considered by the region’s 23 new mayors and jurisdictional leaders lays out three options in response to Surrey City Council’s decision last week.

The municipal government wants TransLink and the Mayors’ Council to cancel the Surrey Newton-Guildford (SNG) light rail transit (LRT) project in favour of extending SkyTrain’s Expo Line along Fraser Highway to Langley Centre.

The Mayor’s Council is being asked to provide TransLink with the final approval it needs to “suspend” the SNG LRT and stop all expenditures of money and resources spend on the project.

The public transit authority says the options laid out are “in recognition of the need to be responsive to the electoral outcome of the recent municipal elections in Surrey.”

Of the three options, TransLink is recommending the Mayors’ Council to approve Option 2 of proceeding immediately with planning, design, and procurement preparation for the 16-km-long SkyTrain extension along Fraser Highway.

Concurrently, this option would also carry out a planning process to “refresh” rapid transit options on the Newton and Guildford corridors, which suggests possible bus rapid transit for the cancelled LRT route currently served by the 96 B-Line. TransLink says this would be “consistent” with the 10-year vision of building 27 km of rapid transit within the South of Fraser.

For the first time, TransLink staff have acknowledged that SkyTrain along the Fraser Highway can be built within the existing funding envelope of $3.5 billion for South of Fraser rapid transit projects. The cost of building the Fraser Highway SkyTrain is estimated at $2.9 billion, which can be accomplished by using the remaining, unspent $1.58 billion in Phase One funds set aside for SNG LRT and the $1.9 billion in Phase Three funds set aside for LRT on Fraser Highway.

The $2.9-billion cost includes a generous 25% contingency fund to help account for any unforeseen expenses.

But it is believed that funding will not allow for a full SkyTrain extension to Langley Centre in one single construction phase. Instead, it will have to be accomplished in two separate phases, within the timelines of the Phase Two and Phase Three transit expansion funding availability. The completion of SkyTrain to Langley Centre would align with the same timeline of building LRT on Fraser Highway.

“Given the funding available in Phase Two, management advises that is likely that SkyTrain from Surrey to Langley would have to be constructed in two phases, the first using available Phase Two funding, and the second phase to complete the line to Langley, commencing once the Phase Three Plan is funded and approved,” the report adds.

“However, management also recommends that a Surrey to Langley SkyTrain business case be completed for the corridor as a whole, regardless if the construction is conducted in one or two stages.”

While renegotiations on the allocation of existing funding will be required, TransLink does not anticipate it will need to secure additional funding beyond what has been already approved, nor is it desired given that seeking new funding from the provincial and federal governments would delay work.

However, an additional $185 million in potential federal funding for future Metro Vancouver transit projects is currently unused, and could go towards Phase Three if activated. To access this funding, the federal government requires a minimum 60% match from the local and provincial governments.

TransLink also notes that there is a window of opportunity over the upcoming months to seek further funding for other regional transit priorities, given that a federal election is planned for October 2019. It suggests that the minority-controlled provincial government would be open to providing additional funding given that it is “mindful of electoral realities,” and the report specifically highlights the remaining future rail connection between Arbutus Street and UBC.

Phase Three projects that could be accelerated include the SFU-Burnaby Mountain Gondola and at least five additional B-Line routes, in addition to the four B-Line routes set to launch in 2019.

“Both governments are not expected to rest on the laurels of their existing transit commitments, but will also be thinking of making new commitments,” continued the report.

“The federal election is a critical opportunity for this region to make a unified, strong case to all parties on the need for additional federal funding.”

For the other options that can be made on South of Fraser rapid transit, TransLink is not recommending Option 1 and Option 3.

Option 1 would proceed immediately with planning, design, and procurement preparation on the Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension project while deferring any further planning on rapid transit along the Newton and Guildford corridors. This option is similar to Option 2, but without any considerations to improving transit options on the cancelled LRT route.

Option 3 would send the South of Fraser Rapid Transit Strategy through a re-examination to align with regional priorities. However, this option could delay the launch of SkyTrain by at least a year and risks losing committed federal and provincial funding.

After the Mayors’ Council makes a decision to proceed with an option, TransLink staff will report back on work plans for further consideration during the December 13 meeting.

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