The City of Surrey is taking the unilateral step of appealing to the federal government for $1.8 billion to pay for three light-rapid-transit lines stretching into the eastern and southern parts of the city.
Mayor Dianne Watts acknowledges the city’s request to Ottawa for at-grade light rapid transit (LRT) represents frustration at dealing with a cash-strapped TransLink and the provincial government, which remains committed to more expensive SkyTrain models.
But Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, member of the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation, and former chair of BC Transit, dismisses the request as “pre-election posturing.”
“I don’t know where all this money is going to come from,” he said. “When it comes to reality, I don’t see anything in the offing.”
On Friday, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he sees “nothing untoward” in Surrey’s action, adding he expects Surrey to be having conversations with different levels of government about the city’s priorities.
“I certainly expect that Surrey will be strongly advocating for the projects that they believe are important to their community,” he said, noting he had “six or seven” meetings with Lower Mainland mayors last week alone, all of them with infrastructure priorities for their communities they’re advocating for at “both the federal and provincial levels.”
TransLink’s Cindy Bromley commented only that “there is a large need for transit expansion in the entire region and we recognize that Surrey has a vision for its future, including transit growth.”
In an email to PAN Monday, the director of communications noted that it’s TransLink’s responsibility as regional transportation authority to look at the demands of the entire region and work in co-ordination with municipalities.
“We will continue to work together with all municipalities of Metro Vancouver on defining transportation needs and solutions,” Bromley said.
Watts rejected the notion that the federal funding request is political posturing.
“People who have known me for years know I don’t do things that way,” she said.
Watts said pursuing federal Build Canada funding is a logical step in moving forward Surrey’s transportation agenda, given the continuing growth of the city.
Watts noted Surrey has been subsidizing SkyTrain expansion for years without direct benefit. She said residents can’t continue to wait indefinitely for infrastructure.
“When we look into the future, 70 per cent of the region’s growth is coming south of the Fraser,” she said. “We’ve got to shape the city. We have to have that infrastructure in place.”
The three proposed lines would reach from Surrey City Centre to Highway 1; from City Centre to Newton along King George Boulevard; and from Whalley to Langley.
“LRT is a cost-effective, high-quality and flexible form of rapid transit that businesses and residents in Surrey support,” a Nov. 25 staff report to council states.
“The project will best achieve local and regional goals for land-use shaping and mobility, now and into the future, and encourage increased transit use.”
Corrigan noted Surrey and Vancouver, in particular, are jostling for a place at the head of the line for transportation improvements, in what is devolving into a free-for-all.
“There is a lot of smoke and mirrors at this point,” he added.
Corrigan said the current situation was “predictable, given the disconnect established between land-use planning and transportation planning.”
He said it is an inevitable consequence of the provincial government’s removal of control of transportation planning from local governments, which he blamed on provincial “bitterness” over the municipalities’ previous opposition to SkyTrain’s Canada Line.
– with files from Kevin Diakiw & Jeff Nagel