A Lower Mainland mayor says the City of Surrey should pay back all or part of the $50-million spent so far on a planned light-rapid transit system if Surrey’s mayor elect and his council supporters scrap the LRT for a more expensive SkyTrain system.
Any such shift in plans would have to win the support of the council of Lower Mainland mayors, which approved the project and a $2.83-billion east-west subway in Vancouver.
"I definitely think the City of Surrey is going to have to come to the table to talk about how the region could be reimbursed for costs that have been made so far on the light-rail project,” Jonathan Coté, the mayor of New Westminster, said in an interview this week.
“I definitely think the City of Surrey should be responsible for the costs.”
A 2017 study found a SkyTrain project for Surrey, a city southeast of Vancouver expected to be the most populous in the province in the next 30 years, would cost $2.91-billion.
The planned tram-like light-rail line is budgeted at $1.65-billion. The money is part of a pool of funds the regional mayors raised for the two projects.
Doug McCallum, elected mayor of Surrey in October, campaigned on a commitment to make the switch and has indicated it will be a priority once he and the new council, dominated by members of his municipal party, are sworn in on Nov. 5.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled for separate meetings with Mr. McCallum and Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart. Mr. Stewart has said he supports Mr. McCallum’s decision to upend the LRT plans, but not if it would negatively affect his own city’s project.
Questions have been raised about whether federal funds for the Surrey LRT could be used for a SkyTrain project.
In a recent interview, Ken Hardie, the Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, said federal funding for transit projects can be used for whatever regional mayors decide is a priority.
The federal government has contributed $483.8-million to the 11-station Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT. TransLink, the regional transit authority, is funding the rest of it.
Mr. McCallum has not returned calls from The Globe and Mail seeking comment on the situation.
Mr. Coté called for an assessment of spending on the LRT project so far, but he added, “A lot of those costs should be borne on the responsibility of the City of Surrey because the reason the region has invested that money was ... the direction of Surrey, and commitment to moving ahead with that project.”
Still, Mr. Coté said the LRT cannot be forced on Surrey if voters, by electing Mr. McCallum and his team, have signalled they do not want it.
Although Mr. Coté is returning to office after the recent municipal elections in the Lower Mainland, new mayors were elected in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, North Vancouver, and other municipalities. Mr. Coté is among the few who were involved in the talks that led to an agreement to proceed with the LRT in Surrey and the subway in Vancouver.
Also on Wednesday, TransLink confirmed it is extending the deadline for a request for qualifications process to begin screening prospective builders for the LRT from Nov. 21 to Dec. 19.
“This has been done at the request of proponents to allow for more time to receive clarity from the Mayors' Council on policy direction,” TransLink said in a statement.