OPINION: Surrey – a city in transit
TransLink has produced options for extending rapid transit in Surrey, and none of them come cheap.
Costs begin at the lower end with $900 million for a bus rapid transit system, which would see buses on three major routes move on a dedicated roadway and at faster speeds than conventional buses, which are often stuck in traffic.
The options then accelerate into the billions, with combinations of buses and at-grade rail transit to a high projected cost of $2.2 billion for a SkyTrain extension from King George Station to Langley along Fraser Highway, and BRT on King George Boulevard to Newton and White Rock, and along 104 Avenue to Guildford.
There is no question that transit service in Surrey needs to expand significantly. The second-largest city in B.C. and in the Metro Vancouver region has very modest bus service, and a heavily-used SkyTrain line from Vancouver that only goes as far south and east as 100 Avenue and King George.
While Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says it isn’t so, Surrey is also competing with Vancouver for what is very likely to be scarce funding for SkyTrain or other rapid transit extensions. Vancouver wants a subway or SkyTrain line to go all along Broadway, from Commercial Drive in the city’s east end to UBC. Cost could top $3 billion.
Mark me down as doubtful that Vancouver will ever go to bat for Surrey needing more transit service.
The nature of Lower Mainland municipalities, and Vancouver leads the pack in this regard, is intense self-absorption and little to no interest in challenges faced by their neighbours.
Surrey council would like to see at-grade fast bus or rail service. Council insists, with some justification, that SkyTrain is a blight on immediate properties, given that it towers over them or next to them. It wants to see a cleaner streetscape.
Take Fraser Highway for example. A number of larger multi-family units have been built all along the road, from the King George station to Langley. The city has spent millions in widening the highway and planting perimeter vegetation. Bus stops with proper pull-outs have been added in the newer areas of the widening protect. The Serpentine River bridge has been twinned, and the final stage of the widening is now underway.
Would people who have spent hundreds of thousands in buying homes along there, or businesses along the street, appreciate SkyTrain? It would apply more pressure for added density, which is not bad if Surrey wants more transit, but any rapid-transit system will do the same.
Surrey wants to see more internal trips taken by transit, and council feels that an at-grade system will make that more possible. TransLink points out, in its SkyTrain scenario, that trips would be quicker – about seven minutes faster – from Langley to King George.
What Vancouver and Burnaby have, and Surrey does not, is significant numbers of the populace who use transit daily, because it is quick and convenient. Surrey has few such transit routes, and many people in Surrey travel great distances each day.
It seems to me that one of TransLink’s and the region’s goals should be to reduce the length of trips, as well as the commuting time. Yes, people will always want to go into Vancouver from Surrey, but many also travel within Surrey or south of the Fraser, and it’s hard to do that by bus in many instances.
The construction of any rapid-transit extension requires a lot of money.
TransLink has no ability to participate in any such capital project at present, as it has no funds. While senior governments will likely assist in funding any such projects, TransLink has no ability to raise any more money without raising more taxes.
Surrey residents need to consider carefully what type of transit expansion will suit them and the city best, now and into the future. Council members need to think of the good of Surrey citizens, and the larger region, in taking part in the rapid-transit debate.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.