OPINION: SkyTrain-LRT debate only over for one leg

Surrey residents find out transit costs have been bumped dramatically

Residents can now see what an LRT car looks like – inside and out.

One built by Alstom was officially welcomed to Surrey by Mayor Linda Hepner last week at Central City. It will be on display until May 11, then move to Newton, then to Surrey Children’s Festival and finally at the Canada Day event in Cloverdale.

Hepner noted this particular car may not be the exact type used on the Surrey line, which is to run west from Guildford, and then south to Newton along King George Boulevard. The supplier has not been chosen, and each manufacturer’s cars are different. For example, the car on display does not have hooks on which to hang bicycles – features on Portland’s extensive system.

Meanwhile, the public recently found out the cost of Surrey LRT line has risen by $410 million since 2015. The estimated cost is now $1.65 billion for the 10.5-kilometre line.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond, who announced on April 30 the new costs for the LRT line and a Vancouver subway line, said one major reason is the ever-rising cost of property. Significant amounts of property will need to be purchased because of the extremely wide streets required to accommodate two lanes of LRT.

The Surrey line will not be open until 2024 – six years later than promised by Hepner during her mayoral run. One of the delays, of course, was caused by the referendum on transit expansion. Voters turned down a 0.5 per cent sales tax increase in 2015 to help fund transit. The issue was only resolved when the federal and provincial governments each agreed to fund 40 per cent of capital costs.

One can’t help wonder if $1.65 billion will be the final cost. It would be nice to see evidence that TransLink and Surrey are doing everything they can to keep costs low, but such evidence rarely seems to be made available to those who pay for these projects – taxpayers.

Not everyone is as excited about LRT as Hepner. Protesters were at Central City, upset over the clear-cutting of Hawthorne Park to accommodate LRT and also the choice of LRT instead of SkyTrain.

One critic says the LRT plan should be cancelled entirely, and a SkyTrain system built instead.

While this won’t happen with the first phase, on which a great deal of planning has been done, that point is worth considering with the second phase – the line along Fraser Highway from King George Boulevard to Langley City. The SkyTrain guideway already extends past King George Station – pointing down Fraser Highway. SkyTrain would have less impact on Green Timbers forest, and the line will need to be elevated in some places anyway – notably in Langley City where it crosses Highway 10.

Hepner and others claim SkyTrain is too costly. It does cost more than LRT to build, but property acquisition costs would be less.

If Vancouver rates a subway along Broadway – much more expensive per kilometre than either LRT or SkyTrain – it is not too much for Surrey and Langley residents to expect SkyTrain on Fraser Highway. It would provide faster travel and a seamless connection with all the rest of the rapid-transit system, with one notable exception – the Guildford-Newton LRT line.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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