Metro Vancouver’s mayors will have to decide Thursday on whether to move ahead with Surrey’s desired SkyTrain. (Black Press Media files)

Metro Vancouver mayors face tough decision on SkyTrain versus light rail

Surrey’s mayor is pushing for SkyTrain, saying he can keep costs low

Metro Vancouver’s mayors are set gather in New Westminster on Thursday for the first time since municipal election, and since Surrey’s new council cancelled the city’s light-rail project – a major flank of the group’s long-term transportation plan.

The meeting of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation will see 23 municipal leaders – 17 of them new since the Oct. 20 vote – decide if light rail in Surrey and Langley is dead on arrival.

Last week, Surrey city council, led by newly-elected Mayor Doug McCallum, voted against 26 kilometres of light rail in favour of SkyTrain at its inaugural meeting.

READ MORE: Surrey council unanimously passes motion to ‘cancel ’ LRT

The move could see the $7.3-million second phase of the mayors’ 10-year vision grind to a halt as the region discusses what will happen next.

Funding approval was secured for phase two earlier this year. The plan had been to build two lines of light rail, one connecting Newton to Surrey Centre to Guildford by 2024, and the other connecting Surrey to Langley along Fraser Highway sometime in the next decade.

READ MORE: TransLink CEO weighs in on Surrey’s move from LRT to SkyTrain

TransLink had estimated a cost of $1.65 billion for the first line and $1.9 billion for the second, although predesign work on the Fraser Highway line has yet to truly start.

But McCallum has said his plan to extend SkyTrain won’t cost much more, despite TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond telling reporters SkyTrain was still estimated to cost $2.9 billion.

He did say he was confident both senior governments would switch from light rail to SkyTrain.

“From what I’ve heard… they want to make sure that public transit infrastructure is delivered in Surrey. That signals to me that there will be flexibility,” Desmond said after a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade meeting last week.

READ MORE: New federal deal unlocks $2.2B in TransLink cash

McCallum hopes to save money by building much of the Fraser Highway route on the ground, although Desmond warned that could cause issues on the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Metro Vancouver municipalities remain split on the issue, with a Langley councillor concerned that a Fraser Highway SkyTrain won’t make it far past Fleetwood, while New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote wants Surrey to pay back the $50-70 million already spent on the Newton-Surrey Centre-Guildford line.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has spoken out in favour of SkyTrain in Surrey, as long as it doesn’t hurt his plans to build SkyTrain out to UBC.

Mayors are expected to decide how to proceed at Thursday’s meeting.


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