Monday, October 29, 2018

New Mayors, SkyTrain, and transit’s future in Metro Vancouver. What does it mean for the South of Fraser and Langley?

In preparation for the transit plebiscite in 2015, the region’s mayors got together and agreed on a transit vision for our region. It was a herculean effort to get a vision that all parts of the region could get behind.

The original vision was to be funded by a 0.5% increase in sales tax, but this was rejected by voters. To move forward, the plan was split into three phases. Phase one was approved in mid-2016, when the federal government, provincial government, and region came to a funding agreement. This took a lot of negotiation.

Funding for phase two of the vision, which included the Broadway SkyTrain extension and Surrey Light Rail along 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard, was approved this spring.

Phase three would have seen light rail built along Fraser Highway between Downtown Surrey and Downtown Langley. Phase three is currently not funded.

It was a difficult 4-year journey to get to where the vision stands today.

With the recent election of the Doug McCallum slate in Surrey, it appears that Surrey Light Rail is off the table. While he alone doesn’t have the power to cancel a project, I can’t see the region forcing a project into a community that doesn’t want it. What does this mean for the future of rapid transit for Langley, the South of Fraser, and the region as a whole?

In one scenario, Surrey Council could look at the numbers and realize that the cost of cancelling Surrey Light Rail would be too much. They would continue with the current vision. This is unlikely.

In another scenario, the majority of the region’s mayors could decide to re-open the transit vision. In this case, most transit expansion stops including the Broadway SkyTrain extension and B-Line service expansion like what is proposed along Fraser Highway.

Another four years is spent coming to a new agreement on what the future of transit should look like in our region. At risk is both federal and provincial money, and delaying much needed transit service as more people get stuck in congestion.

A likely scenario is that the current Surrey Light Rail project will be cancelled with the remaining funding used to build an expansion of the Expo Line along Fraser Highway. The rest of the vision would remain as-is; there would be no rapid transit along King George Boulevard or 104th Avenue for the next 15+ years.

The total budget for the current Surrey Light Rail project is $1.65 billion. The cost to build SkyTrain is estimated at $2.9 billion from Surrey to Langley.

Given the difference in costs, the SkyTrain extension would have to be built in two phases as the federal and provincial government aren’t committing new money to build SkyTrain. The first phase of the SkyTrain extension would likely terminate in Fleetwood. This would be similar to the original 2008 Provincial Transit Plan for Metro Vancouver.

Map of rapid transit expansion as envisioned in the 2008 Provincial Transit Plan select map to enlarge.

Phase three of the ten-year transit vision earmarks around $1.95 billion to build light rail to Downtown Langley. If the rest of the region’s mayors confirm the 10-Year Vision and are able to plug the current funding gap for phase three, there would be enough money to extend SkyTrain to Downtown Langley.

With so many new mayors in our region, I am not confident that phase three will go ahead as currently planned. Over the next year, it will become clear what the future of transit will look like in our region. My hope is that Langley City doesn’t get left behind.


Frankly Speaking said...

Like you, I don’t want to see Langley City left behind. However, I do not agree that it will take another four years of negotiation to come up with a transit plan. One of the reasons for the delay in phase 1 and 2 was the referendum. The message voters just sent to politicians, those defeated and those newly-elected (or re-elected), was “get moving on this and other infrastructure priorities.” Nowhere is this more true than in the South Fraser region.

Nathan Pachal said...

I know that Vancouver would like to see SkyTrain to UBC, and the North Shore would also like to see rapid transit as well. That would require several extra billions of dollars. If the mayors are mostly willing to support these extras with property tax increases, and the province and feds come to the table with matching money, we will be in a good spot. I know in the past, property tax has been a sore spot.

Darren said...

I'm Surrey resident and have been following the LRT/Skytrain debate closely. Your blog has been an excellent resource for me. If you lived in my city I would vote for you!

I watched the trudeau/maccallum/stewart press conference today and I got this feeling....

I think you're right to be concerned about Langley being left behind. One option that could be considered is they keep LRT and switch to Skytrain down fraser highway but stop just before 168th street.

Given their is a plan for a b-line bus from langley to Surrey they would just shorten the line to 168th and call it job do. This wouldn't impact the timelines and would appease Surrey voters while giving the two largest Surrey town centres rapid transit. Most importantly no extra money would be needed. I think this is something that most mayors would support.

Is this a good fit for langley? I'm not too sure.