COLUMN: Year of debate lies ahead in ‘16

When it comes to growth, the year ahead will be a pivotal one in Surrey, Delta and White Rock.

The year ahead will be a pivotal one in Surrey, Delta and White Rock.

The area will keep growing at a steady pace. A recent survey conducted by B.C. Business magazine shows that Surrey is the seventh-best place for work in B.C., while Delta was rated eighth. Both are well ahead of Vancouver, which came in 17th.

Growth in Surrey, in particular, has been very strong for most of the past decade, with much of the business activity due to construction in the residential sector. Strong population growth is likely to continue in 2016.

And of course, when there are more people, there is a need for more services. That means there are opportunities for new businesses, and a need for more public investment. Schools are needed, and construction of new schools and additions will go ahead in the coming year.

There is also a need for more road and transit infrastructure. The defeat of the TransLink referendum this past year was a setback for extension of rapid transit in Surrey, but it has also been an opportunity to take a closer look at what was planned. There has been significant concern raised about the Surrey proposal to build at-grade LRT lines which will not significantly reduce travel times.

Whether funds can be found for a SkyTrain extension remains to be seen, given that there isn’t enough money at present to build the LRT lines. However, the federal government has promised to boost infrastructure spending, and four of Surrey’s five MPs are part of the governing Liberal party. Hopefully, they and Delta MP Carla Qualtrough, who is part of the federal cabinet, will advocate strongly for this region to get significant infrastructure funds.

Another major transportation project is moving ahead, although construction isn’t set to start until 2017. It’s the new Deas Island bridge, which will have a significant effect on Delta. Whether it being a toll bridge will severely affect traffic on the remaining free bridges, notably the Alex Fraser, will be determined in the future.

Hopefully, Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Peter Fassbender, who now has responsibility for TransLink, will move forward in the coming year with an innovative approach to paying for transportation and transit. There needs to be a tolling and road pricing policy which is fair to all residents, no matter where they live in the Metro Vancouver region.

The new year will see a significant number of Syrian refugees arrive in Surrey. The community is ready – many people have volunteered their homes to house the refugees, and numerous groups have gathered needed supplies. Education and health services are being organized, even before the refugees arrive, and it is safe to say they will be well taken care of here.

There will be little political campaigning in 2016, which is likely a relief to most people. After a provincial election in 2013, municipal elections in 2014 and a federal election in 2015, citizens have had their fill of politicking.

In the backrooms, there will be some significant planning and preparation for the May 2017 provincial election. Fixed election dates mean there are longer lead times. Expect some politically themed ads late in 2016, before stricter election spending laws kick in.

White Rock will face the challenge in 2016 of managing its own water system for the first time ever. There has already been concerns raised over the chemicals used in the water supply, but if the city manages the water system as well as it has been operated under private ownership, there should be few problems.

What the city may be faced with is more capital costs, given that portions of the water-system infrastructure haven’t been upgraded for decades.

Overall, it will be a year of growth, change and debate over all the issues that come with a growing region. One thing is for sure – 2017 will not be dull.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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