Fleetwood BIA is coming out of the gate strong on rapid transit, saying SkyTrain down Fraser Highway would be a “noisy monstrosity” and is the wrong choice for the area’s businesses and residents.
“It’s short sighted. This doesn’t benefit anybody in the community,” said Dean Barbour, executive director of Fleetwood BIA, of a SkyTrain line. “I think people are going to be extremely mad.”
The business group has gone so far as to superimpose a light rail track and a SkyTrain line over two images of intersection in its twon core — one at 160th Street, the other at 159th Street, along Fraser Highway — to highlight the visual difference between the two technologies.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Barbour.
The business group is soon releasing a video that outlines the $1.65-billion light rail project’s overview, and why it’s the “right choice.”
Barbour noted that the city’s town centre plans, in all six town centres, have been developed predicated on rapid transit at grade.
Light rail, he said, would bring “development, growth, job creation and economic development.”
“The video will showcase the LRT plan as the most viable and affordable option because it has been planned out to 2041,” Barbour explained, referring to city hall’s envisioned 150-kilometre LRT network. “Whereas the SkyTrain option has only been planned for the Fraser Highway corridor, with no subsequent links.”
If SkyTrain is the better option, Barbour challenged the pro-SkyTrain camps to present a long-term plan for the people of Surrey.
“The question has to be asked. If it’s an average of $1 billion per extension, cost-estimated, over light rail, where is that money going to come from?” he added, particularly after the funding is formally in place for Surrey’s line, with all levels of government signing off.
Barbour said Fleetwood is its own community hub, like the other town centres around Surrey.
“We need to have a system that yes, moves people, but more importantly contributes to the liveability and the sustainability of the neighbourhoods we’re trying to create,” he told the Now-Leader. “It doesn’t benefit any of our communities to have a giant monolithic rail, higher than any building in our community, racing through, with very limited stops racing people from point A to point B. It does absolutely nothing. There’s no economic benefit to it.”
He noted Fleetwood has many seniors, and getting up escalators with a SkyTrain system may be daunting, along with the “perception out there about the safety of SkyTrain stations.”
And, the area would get fewer stops on a SkyTrain line.
“Possibly two stations, because of SkyTrain stations’ massive footprints. There’s not enough space. Where LRT, stations are smaller, have less of an impact, we could have as many as four and they’re expandable. As time goes on, we can lengthen the rail,” said Barbour.
Neither mayoral candidates who are coming out strongly against LRT, former mayor Doug McCallum and incumbent councillor Bruce Hayne, have come to speak to the Fleetwood BIA, Barbour noted.
McCallum says if elected, he’ll immediately halt the LRT project and get going on a SkyTrain line, which he says he can do with existing funds and that the project’s cost would be “significantly reduced” by having 30 to 40 per cent of it run at grade. McCallum says he’s never seen a level of opposition to a major infrastructure project than he does with Surrey’s planned $1.65-billion 10.5-kilometre light rail line, which in phase one would from from Newton along to City Centre along King George, and from City Centre to Guildford along 104th Avenue, if built.
Hayne, a Surrey First councillor who split to run with his Integrity Now team, commits to pressing “pause” on the project, if voters elect him.
To switch gears, said Barbour, they’d “need to get a council approval, do full consultation, planning, drafting of the plan, a whole financial outlook, then when that’s done they’d need to convince the Mayor’s Council, reconvince these people who already committed to LRT that this is the right option. Then there’s election provincially and federally, he has to go to the feds and the province to get the funding and everybody across the board has already committed.
“We’ve done five open houses. We sit there at the Fleetwood Festival for six hours talking to hundreds of people. People aren’t saying we want SkyTrain, people are saying they’re confused and getting mixed information. When they do understand, 99.9 per cent want LRT. That’s what’s happening on the ground,” Barbour stated.
Here’s what @Newton_BIA director Philip Aguirre had to say about LRT versus SkyTrain for #surreybc. LRT is “Newton’s chance,” he says. “We’re not taking about technologies, we’re talking about choosing Langley over Newton.” pic.twitter.com/Kd5tCvoOwD
— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) September 27, 2018
The Newton BIA has long advocated for light rail.
The group’s director Philip Aguirre said it’s “Newton’s chance.”
Its town centre would be home to the proposed Surrey-Newton-Guildford line’s terminus station, near 72nd Avenue and King George Boulevard.
“The benefits to the community for Newton are going to be astronomical,” Aguirre said of light rail. “They’re going to be huge, they’re going to transform the community. When we talk about LRT not coming to Newton, or SkyTrain going through Fleetwood to Langley, we’re not talking about technologies, we’re talking about choosing Langley over Newton. Newton has 146,000 people that live in it. It dwarfs Langley. All the businesses that are right here in the town centre, and the manufacturing sector, and when you’re going to turn your back on an investment of that size, I think it would be a huge loss for the community of Newton.”
Paul Orazietti, director of the Cloverdale BIA, said his community is “kind of the forgotten member of the family” when it comes to rapid transit.
“From a recent survey we’ve done, our business base is struggling to get minimum wage employees to get to the community,” he said. “We have, basically, peak hours, a bus that comes twice an hour, so we are limited. The light rail system goes from Downtown Surrey to the City of Langley so from that perspective, we’re out of the loop.”
On the plus side, he said, “we’re not going have our road dug up, and have some businesses who don’t survive.”
“But in the same breath, we do have some magnitude in the area. We have a university here, the museum expansion, the fairgrounds, so from that perspective, rapid transit really isn’t serving us.”
The Cloverdale BIA would like to see increased B-lines for the area, he added.
The Surrey Board of Trade has long been in support of LRT.
SBOT CEO Anita Huberman says the group is “adamantly opposed to SkyTrain” on any of the proposed routes.
“We want to ensure that this is a city where people can live, work, learn and play,” said Huberman. “LRT is the right solution to enable that. To enable us to be the largest city in British Columbia where Vancouver is not the destination, but Surrey and South of the Fraser is the destination.”
Huberman expects the light rail funding will be lost if a change in technology is sought.
“Surrey will be left behind by another 20 years. We’ll be at the bottom of the barrel in terms of intergovernmental investment,” she remarked.
“We’re having our mayoral debate on Oct. 10 and we’re hoping to listen to their perspectives,” Huberman said. “But whoever gets into office, we’re going to work with them and we sometimes are going to have to agree to disagree. Surrey is on a tipping point.”
The Now-Leader has contacted the Downtown Surrey BIA and the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce for comment on the LRT versus SkyTrain debate as well.
For its part, the SkyTrain for Surrey group is not backing down and has been vocal in its opposition to light rail technology in Surrey. The group’s change.org petition against the project has garnered more than 5,600 signatures.