The Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension is inching forward.
On Thursday (July 14), the province released the SkyTrain extension’s business case and announced the formal approval of provincial funding for the project, with capital costs estimated at $3.94 billion. That includes $2.4 billion of the province’s share and $1.3 billion from the federal government – which was promised in 2021 – and the remainder will be coming from local government.
That’s a total estimated cost, which includes active transportation investments, is $4.01 billion.
“We spent the necessary time doing our due diligence on this, how to make it the best project possible and for our government, assuming responsibility for it after the pandemic from TransLink who was originally supposed to be the lead,” explained Rob Fleming, B.C.’s minister of transportation and infrastructure.
Fleming was joined by George Heyman, the minister of environment and climate change and the minister responsible for TransLink, and Bowinna Ma, the minister of state for infrastructure.
“It was an opportunity to re-think some things about that project that had been contemplated earlier.”
Fleming also touted that the project will be delivered by 2028, “two years earlier than originally planned,” and it will be $500 million less than initially estimated.
That’s due to the fact, he said, that the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain will be a one-phase project instead of the originally envisioned two-phase project.
But how did we get here?
Four years ago, on July 17, 2018, Doug McCallum announced his intent to run for mayor and said he would scrap the already approved light-rail transit project which would have connected Newton to City Centre via King George Boulevard, and City Centre to Guildford via 104th Avenue.
After McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition majority were elected, Surrey city council unanimously passed a motion after being sworn in on Nov. 5, 2018, to “cancel” the LRT project.
By the following July, TransLink estimated the entire 16-kilometre Surrey-Langley SkyTrain route would cost $3.12 billion – nearly double the funding it had available. Because of that, TransLink proposed a two-phase project, with phase one terminating around 166 Street in Fleetwood for an estimated $1.63 billion.
TransLink’s Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation endorsed the two-phase business case in January of 2020, with an anticipated opening date in late 2025.
Phase two would have had a potential opening date in 2030.
Then came the pandemic.
In May 2020, TransLink was facing monthly revenue losses of $75 million because of “stringent physical distancing measures” which resulted in travel demand declining “substantially.”
However, during the 2020 provincial election NDP leader John Horgan pledged his party would complete the extension to Langley. The BC NDP ultimately took over the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project, announcing it would be built in one phase out to Langley.
So what’s happening now?
Fleming said on July 14 that he’s “happy to report that the project is not only moving quickly but the first phase of procurement will begin next month.”
Currently, the city is undergoing early works construction along Fraser Highway.
“The City of Surrey deserves to be singled out for some praise because they moved immediately with their own contribution funds to this project to expand (Fraser Highway) which is going to be absolutely crucial to staging the construction of the elevated guidelines and the station infrastructure,” noted Fleming.
“That was essential to sequence this project and get going on it as quickly as possible.”
In early June, Surrey city council approved a $17.5-million construction contract for work to widen Fraser Highway to four lanes with cycling and pedestrian facilities and to widen the centre median to accommodate the upcoming SkyTrain expansion.
That work, which has already started, is expected to be completed by May 2023.
And it was in the fall of 2020 that council approved widening Fraser Highway to four lanes between 140 Street through Green Timbers to allow for the elevated guideway.
After the July 14 update on the project, McCallum told the Now-Leader the provincial government has “really put a foot forward on a new way to build major infrastructure.”
“I think it sends a big message to all of B.C. – maybe all of Canada – on these large infrastructure projects. The quicker we move on it and build complete ones rather than in pieces, then it’s a lot cheaper and it’s a lot quicker and then the people can live there a lot sooner than if we wait.”
Meantime, the business case notes to “increase bid competition and enable a greater number of local companies to bid on different elements of the project will be delivered through three different sub-contracts.”
The first contract will be for the SkyTrain guideway, which will begin procurement for requests for qualifications in August.
The second will be for station construction, along with active transportation elements including cycling and walking paths “that will integrate into the project.” Procurement for that contract is expected to start in the fall. The third contract will be for electrical systems, with procurement expected to begin as early as December.
Major construction is expected to begin in 2024
But asked when people could first see that construction on the elevated guideway, Heyman said: “People can expect to see things move relatively quickly.”
NEXT WEEK: Part two of our series looks at the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension’s impact on businesses along the route.