The cost estimate for a new Surrey-Langley SkyTrain line has risen to $3.1-billion, the region’s transit authority has concluded, but Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum says he will still ask fellow mayors to support his bid to build the 16-kilometre project.
“We’re going to push for the extra money for all the way to Langley. I think there’s still room to do it,” said Mr. McCallum, who has consistently said voters elected him to cancel the existing plans for a light-rail system in Surrey and Langley and to insist on a SkyTrain line instead.
The new cost estimate released Friday by TransLink executives concluded the original rough calculation of $2.9-billion for the line was too low. Translink found there were more problems with soil conditions and utility conflicts than they had expected.
But in spite of the increased bill, TransLink executives said the new line would have a better benefit-to-cost result than Surrey’s previously planned light-rail lines.
“It’s a very good project,” TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said.
His team said a Surrey-Langley line would provide $1.24 of benefits for each dollar spent, while the previous light-rail system would have produced only 80 cents in benefits for each dollar spent.
A line all the way to Langley would produce 62,000 riders a day by 2035 and 71,200 by 2050, according to their calculations. Currently, Langley buses carry only about 15,000 people a day, while the Evergreen Line from Port Moody to Lougheed Centre has about 47,000 and the Broadway B-Line about 80,000.
Last fall, Mr. McCallum followed through on a campaign promise to cancel the city’s plans for light rail, a decision that upended a hard-won agreement from all regional mayors in a 10-year transit plan, angering some of the other mayors.
Mr. McCallum said Friday he accepts the $3.1-billion calculation for now, although he thinks the number is inflated by relatively high estimates for construction and contingency costs.
“We’ve accepted their costing. But the thing is that they’re very conservative. We’ll push on this.”
And he still doesn’t buy TransLink’s argument that the line would have to be elevated – which is more expensive – across the Serpentine Valley because of concerns about flooding. Mr. McCallum said the city has dams and pumps that minimize that kind of danger.
Ultimately, he is undaunted in his bid to get the full 16-kilometre line built, even though TransLink has government commitments to cover only $1.65-billion in costs at the moment.
TransLink transportation planner Jeff Busby said that money will cover only a new, elevated SkyTrain line with eight stations from central Surrey to Fleetwood, seven kilometres away. It would cost $2.2-billion to extend it one station further to Clayton, on the other side of the Serpentine Valley’s agricultural-reserve land.
TransLink’s mayors’ plan did envision about $3.5-billion in total going to transit improvements for the south of the Fraser River region, but it was to come in three phases.
Phase 2 of the plan envisioned spending the committed $1.65-billion to cover the two light-rail lines to Guildford and Newton in Surrey. A Surrey-Langley light-rail line was supposed to be added in a third phase, which would have required another $1.9-billion.
But the funding for that third phase is still unclear. The federal and provincial governments would need to contribute at least 65 per cent of the costs to make it feasible. As well, regional mayors would have to figure out how to pay the rest of the bill, through property taxes, gas taxes, fare increases or something else.
In the meantime, there is a federal election looming and it’s not at all clear what will happen to the Liberals, who had been enthusiastic supporters of transit.
Mr. Desmond said that, although there is a risk that a new government could simply take back the already committed $1.65-billion, he believes that all political parties understand the need to invest in mobility for urban workers.
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