COLUMN: A few guarantees for ‘13

Transit, health care will hog headlines this year in Surrey, predicts columnist Frank Bucholtz

The new year has started. While much that will come about in the next 12 months is completely unpredictable, there are a few things that will occur with certainty.

Here in Surrey, we know there will be continued growth. The city keeps expanding at a steady pace of close to 1,000 residents per month, according to Mayor Dianne Watts, and there is no sign that it will change significantly. New homes continue to be built in all corners of the city, and more people will move here.

The tolling of the Port Mann Bridge will begin to have an effect on Surrey, particularly near the end of the year. Right now, most bridge users are getting free trips, but those will run out and when commuters start to get the monthly bills, some will change their habits. The tolls will double at the end of 2013 as well.

I’ve been surprised at how few people are using the new Highway 17, the portion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road between 176 and 128 Streets.

Many people I talk to seem unaware of it, and when I’ve driven on it, there are rarely more than a few cars or trucks to be seen.

Admittedly, this has been at off-peak hours, but I have yet to hear of any traffic tie-ups there. I’m sure it was jammed on the day the Port Mann Bridge closed due to ice falling from the cables, but other than that, it seems to be surprisingly under-utilized.

The current Port Mann Bridge traffic is almost certain to begin to shift to Highway 17, the Pattullo Bridge and the Alex Fraser Bridge. Transit use will go up.

Another factor which is likely is that people will look for jobs on the same side of the river they live on.

The closure of Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency ward in November for two full weeks highlighted just how busy the health care system is in this city.

A new emergency ward is under construction (that’s what led to the closure, as a water line was ruptured and flooded the existing ER), but the demands on the health-care system will continued to increase.

The same holds true for the education system.

While there has been funding for new schools and additions in crowded areas, continued growth means more students in the school system.

Couple this with added pressures in each classroom due to issues like special needs and bullying, and the challenges in the school system are sure to mount.

One of the biggest political battles of the year, other than the provincial election, will be between Surrey and other South Fraser municipalities on one side, and Vancouver on the other, over where new transit funding should be allocated.

Vancouver wants a SkyTrain or its equivalent all the way to UBC, to deal with the tremendous congestion along the Broadway corridor.

Surrey wants B-line buses and eventual light rail along King George Boulevard, Fraser Highway  and 104 Avenue.

These battles will take shape while TransLink itself has become a political football, tossed back and forth between the Liberals and NDP, with area mayors occasionally appearing on the field, in minor roles.

One thing is crystal clear. No matter what the challenges are along the Broadway corridor, Surrey, Delta,Langley and White Rock have a far lighter level of transit service than currently enjoyed in Burnaby, Richmond, Vancouver and New Westminster – with the sole exception of the SkyTrain line.

If the majority of transit expansion takes place in those communities that are already well-served, this area will of necessity remain car-dependent.

Look for plenty on all these subjects, and much more, as 2013 progresses.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.