COLUMN: Mayors’ transfer of power to be felt in Surrey

COLUMN: Mayors’ transfer of power to be felt in Surrey

Mayors’s council shakeup could negatively affect LRT plans

A major shakeup at the Mayors’ Council isn’t likely to do the Surrey LRT project any good.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson as chair, and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, as vice-chair, are out. They have been replaced, respectively, by Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan and North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton.

Corrigan has been an outspoken advocate for mayors to have much more power over TransLink. His frustration goes back to when most of TransLink’s board was made up of elected officials, and it only grew when the transportation minister of the day, Kevin Falcon, replaced it with an appointed board.

Burnaby, of course, has two SkyTrain lines and bus service almost the equivalent of Vancouver’s. It would be safe to say it is well-served.

Corrigan has been called “anti-transit” by Langley City Coun. Nathan Pachal, and “transit-regressive” by New Westminster Coun. Patrick Johnstone.

It’s doubtful that Corrigan is anti-transit. Burnaby is challenged by lengthy traffic tie-ups, and Metrotown would not exist in its present form without SkyTrain; as well, the reshaping around Millennium Line stations are a result of rapid transit.

However, Corigan was the only mayor on the council – which ultimately votes on how transit is funded – to oppose TransLink’s 10-year plan, which includes two rapid-transit projects and replacement of the Pattullo Bridge. Corrigan is also likely to bring a combative approach, which may impede efforts to secure funding for both the Surrey LRT project and the Broadway SkyTrain extension. While funding for the first phase of LRT between Newton and Guildford seems pretty secure, there has been no commitment by senior governments to fund the second phase to Langley City.

Of course, there is also pushback from many Surrey residents over LRT. The SkyTrain for Surrey group calls for SkyTrain technology to be used on both routes.

Corrigan will likely pressure the province to change the way TransLink is governed.

Meanwhile, a research paper in November on behalf of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy takes aim at Surrey’s plan for LRT. Author Mario Iacobacci says Phase 1 is unlikely to deliver value for money.

The paper looks at rapid-transit infrastructure projects in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. While most of Metro Vancouver’s projects have “either delivered net positive value or are expected to do so, the one exception is the Surrey LRT, which may not deliver value in its current form. Phase 2 could restore the overall project to net positive value creation if it is delivered as an extension of the existing SkyTrain service rather than as an LRT.”

The paper says that if Phase 2 uses SkyTrain technology, it “would improve the business-case results significantly.”

Hepner reacted by saying she “would agree to disagree.” She has every right to disagree with a comparative study of transit projects across the country. However, at the Mayors’ Council, her influence has lessened now that she is no longer vice-chair.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

frank.bucholtz@gmail.com