A Fraser Valley group headed by a former local mayor is mounting a public campaign to oppose plans for a Surrey-Langley SkyTrain line, saying it would cost far too much money and there aren’t enough people along the route to justify it.
“It is one of the biggest wastes of money,” former Langley township mayor Rick Green said. “The per-capita cost, it’s just nonsense.”
The organization he’s leading, the South Fraser Community Rail Group, is putting on a series of public events featuring former premier Bill Vander Zalm and University of B.C. professor Patrick Condon, who has long been an advocate for light rail over SkyTrain-type rapid-transit lines.
The group has put out a poster headlined “TransLink’s $3-billion waste: Exposed,” with claims that the public is not getting complete information about the proposed SkyTrain project.
The group’s efforts are the latest twist in what has been a long, difficult road for transit planning in the region. Local mayors agreed in 2015, after a lot of bargaining and compromises, on a 10-year regional plan that included light-rail lines to connect several neighbourhoods in Surrey even though one vocal community group was lobbying for SkyTrain.
Then the whole plan was upended in October, 2018, when a new mayor, Doug McCallum, and council were elected in Surrey on a promise to ditch light rail and lobby for a new SkyTrain line. He has claimed that most or all of the line can be built for the same $1.65-billion that had been allocated for the first phase of the light-rail lines.
The TransLink mayors’ council has agreed to cancel the light-rail plans and begin exploring the business case for a 16-kilometre SkyTrain line from central Surrey to central Langley.
TransLink ran public consultations last month, and said that survey results from more than 20,000 people show overwhelming support – in the 80-per-cent and 90-per-cent range – for SkyTrain.
Mr. Green says the results published by TransLink are inaccurate because people were given the sense there was only one option.
“I’m surprised it wasn’t 100 per cent in favour.”
As well, he said, there won’t be a big enough population in Langley, either now or even in 20 years, to support such an expensive line.
Finally, he argued, it’s a huge problem that Mr. McCallum has abandoned a long-established transit plan south of the Fraser on the basis of being elected by only 13 per cent of registered voters in his city.
Mr. Green’s group has been lobbying for years to have TransLink consider creating a transit route along the Fraser Valley’s old interurban rail line with a new 99-kilometre line starting at the Pattullo Bridge that connects Surrey and New Westminster and that would end in Chilliwack. The group would like to see some of the $2.9-billion allocated for south-of-Fraser transit in the current 10-year plan dedicated to that rail option.
But the current mayor of the Township of Langley, Jack Froese, said he believes the public is solidly supportive of the SkyTrain proposal.
He said he’s heard that from many Langley voters over the years, not just in TransLink surveys.
“The old Surrey plan [for light rail], we went along for their needs. But at the end of the day, SkyTrain is a better system for our community.”
Mr. Froese, who has twice competed against Mr. Green for the mayor’s job and won both times, said the interurban-rail idea has been pitched to TransLink before and rejected because it has too many negatives.
“It’s single track, with freight on it already and it would be slower than buses.”
As well, he said, the line meanders through rural areas, rather than dense population centres, because it served agriculture in the region when it was built in 1910.