COLUMN: Path to LRT a lesson for future leaders

Surrey civic candidates have differing opinions of LRT vs. SkyTrain debate

Nominations for local councils and boards of education close Friday.

Already, candidates for Surrey council are offering diverging perspectives on the merits of LRT versus SkyTrain.

Outgoing mayor Linda Hepner hosted the prime minister and premier last week, as they again announced the Guildford-Newton LRT project going ahead. Construction will begin in 2020, with the line operational by 2024 – six years later than then-candidate Hepner promised in 2014.

The 10.5-kilometre LRT line will now cost a total of $1.65 billion.

While Hepner’s successor as Surrey First candidate for mayor, Tom Gill, is an unabashed believer that LRT is the only rapid-transit system Surrey needs, it seems few outside his slate share that enthusiasm. The public seems to be generally negative, with notable exceptions mostly from the business community.

Concerns are numerous, but one of the most-repeated is that trains and vehicle traffic cannot coexist on congested streets.

One of the points made by those who oppose trains on streets is that LRT won’t be able to operate when there is a major crash. On Saturday, 100 Avenue was closed between 144 and 148 Streets for more than eight hours due to a fatal collision. How long will LRT service be suspended when there is a similar crash on 104 Avenue or King George Boulevard?

Gill’s challengers for mayor are skeptical about LRT being the only solution.

Bruce Hayne, a former Surrey First slate member and incumbent councillor now running for mayor with Surrey Integrity Now, says the LRT project is too far advanced along the Guildford-Newton corridor to stop. However, he also says SkyTrain makes more sense for the longer portion between King George Station and Langley City.

The Proudly Surrey slate, which has Pauline Greaves as its mayoral candidate, supports going ahead with LRT for the first phase but wants more discussion on future options. Former mayor Doug McCallum, with the Safe Surrey Coalition slate, says LRT will not go ahead if he is in control.

Independent mayoral candidate Imtiaz Popat does not support either LRT or SkyTrain, calling for restoration of interurban service on the former BC Electric interurban line. People First Surrey mayoral candidate Rajesh Jayaprakash opposes LRT and wants SkyTrain instead.

The LRT project has been slow to come to fruition, largely because there was no committed funding. The defeated 2015 referendum on imposing an additional sales tax to pay for transit projects played a big part in that.

A great deal of planning and engineering has already taken place. To stop the project completely would be a waste of tax dollars. Nonetheless, critics’ traffic concerns are valid, and every possible mitigation factor must be employed when it begins operating.

However, no further LRT lines should be planned until there is a vigorous discussion, facilitated by Surrey council and fully involving the public. Hopefully, the new council will be more open to public engagement and will actually listen to public input.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News

frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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