COLUMN: Surrey-Langley SkyTrain moves one step closer

SkyTrain service between Surrey and Langley is one step closer.

TransLink is beginning a consultation process about the proposed line between King George Station and Langley City. It is part of an expedited effort to build a business case and bring the project to the TransLink board and the Mayors’ Council by July, in order to get the whole complicated process of actually building the line underway as soon as possible. Likely completion date for at least the first part of the line is 2025.

There will also be consultation on what type of rapid transit would be best along the Newton-Guildford corridor that was proposed as an LRT line, until that plan was shot down by the new Surrey council at its first meeting in November.

This consultation will include seeking public opinion on B-Lines and future transit to South Surrey and White Rock, and along Scott Road.

As the consultation plan was announced April 4, (there will be open houses in Surrey and Langley this month, as well as online consultation at www.surreylangleyskytrain.ca), several other related matters add complexity to the rapid transit plan.

Surrey Coun. Brenda Locke is suggesting a freeze on approving most developments along Fraser Highway until an updated community plan, allowing for more density, can be put together. She anticipates this will delay any proposals for about eight months. Surrey council has yet to vote on her suggestion.

Premier John Horgan has added his own voice to the issue. Horgan said in a Globe and Mail interview that there needs to be increased density along expensive rapid transit lines, in order to both justify the huge costs but also add much-needed housing. The province’s opinion is important – it contributes 40 per cent of the capital costs of these projects.

The comments from both Horgan and Locke indicate that densities along Fraser Highway, in both Surrey and Langley, may have to be increased far more dramatically than current plans envision. In particular, that could mean highrises in Fleetwood and Clayton in Surrey, and in the Willowbrook area of Langley. There could also be a much more intense focus on social housing projects, which are few and far between along that corridor.

Meanwhile, another proposal which has mostly slumbered for the past few decades is once again being promoted – use of the interurban corridor between Chilliwack and Surrey for passenger rail. Former Langley Township Mayor and Delta Coun. Rick Green is spearheading the idea of a hydrogen-powered train, which would be very cheap to get into operation, as compared to building SkyTrain or even LRT.

Green played a key role in ensuring that passenger rights along the corridor, which is owned by BC Hydro, stayed intact when up for renewal. Municipalities in the Fraser Valley Regional District, notably Abbotsford and Chilliwack, aren’t even a part of discussions about future rapid transit. Yet the central and upper Fraser Valley continue to grow at a fast pace, driven by high real estate costs further west. There are no current plans to upgrade Highway 1, which is often a parking lot during the work week and on summer weekends.

In Surrey, the interurban line goes through Cloverdale, Sullivan, Newton and parallels Scott Road. The line crosses Scott Road adjacent to the Scott Road SkyTrain station.

There are many hurdles to cross before such a rail service can even move to the planning stage. Nonetheless, it addresses two very important needs – a need to build more rapid transit at a reasonable cost, and a need to bring rapid transit to areas that are currently badly underserved by transit.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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