Vancouver’s mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart has softened his support for a move by the next mayor of neighbouring Surrey to cancel plans for light-rail lines and replace them with more expensive SkyTrain transit, saying he won’t do anything to jeopardize a planned subway for his own city.
In the aftermath of last weekend’s municipal elections in British Columbia, Mr. Stewart has said he backs the transit upgrade efforts of Doug McCallum, elected in Surrey, which is B.C.’s fastest-growing city. But Mr. McCallum’s position threatens to undo years of painstaking compromises to come up with a 10-year plan for the region because other mayors are worried that if Surrey takes a more expensive route, it will cost all of them more money.
After voicing hearty support for Mr. McCallum’s position on Monday, Mr. Stewart added a caveat Tuesday: “At the same time, we cannot put in jeopardy any infrastructure dollars that have already been committed, including funds earmarked for the Broadway Subway line," he said in a statement issued to The Globe and Mail.
Both the Broadway line, which is to run east-west in Vancouver, and two approved light-rapid transit lines in Surrey are part of a plan agreed to by municipal leaders in the region, many of whom did not seek re-election.
Replacing the approved light rail with an extension of an existing SkyTrain rail line, mostly elevated above ground, would double the cost from the planned $1.65-billion for light rail. Some leaders re-elected or elected last weekend are saying they are wary about supporting more money for Mr. McCallum’s transit agenda.
Peter Ladner, a former Vancouver councillor who is the chair of the region’s Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, a non-profit group of 135 organizations lobbying for continuing transit improvements, said Mr. Stewart’s position is contradictory.
“In order to support Mr. McCallum, you have to support tearing up the mayors' 10-year plan. That jeopardizes [transit] investment in Vancouver and all over the region,” Mr. Ladner said in an interview.
Mr. Ladner said it’s possible that both the Broadway line and a SkyTrain extension in Surrey might be built.
“But you inject a real disturbing amount of uncertainty when you start messing with a key piece of the plan.”
Both LRT and the long-awaited Broadway subway are, in part, funded from $2.7-billion that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted in a recent visit to Surrey.
However Mr. McCallum, returned to office by the voters 13 years after an earlier run as mayor, ran on a platform that denounced LRT as insufficient.
“For people living and working in Surrey - today and in the future - we need to ‘Do it Right’ and build SkyTrain," said an election-campaign statement from Mr. McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, the party that now dominates Surrey council.
The coalition argued in the campaign that SkyTrain is faster than at-grade LRT and won’t cause the same congestion.
Some mayors have warned that Mr. McCallum’s agenda could imperil federal funding. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the federal Infrastructure Department said it is leaving the issue to parties in B.C. to sort out.
“As we support local decision making, we will continue to have conversations with the Mayors Regional Council, TransLink and the Government of British Columbia to support their transit priorities and to advance ambitious public-transit projects that transform the way British Columbians live and work,” communications director Kate Monfette said in a statement.
Mr. McCallum did not respond to phone calls from The Globe on Tuesday, seeking comment.
But he is facing opposition from the Surrey Board of Trade, which is not only concerned about the mayor-elect’s transit agenda, but also his plan to replace the RCMP as the city’s police force with a new municipal police force.
Anita Huberman, CEO of the board, said in an interview that Mr. McCallum’s plan risks government funding now in place, and could delay badly needed transit for the city that is key to economic development.
She said Mr. McCallum has been vague in detailing his plans, and explaining how he will expedite the development of SkyTrain to replace LRT.
“Why is it that we can’t collectively work on what is agreed upon and then move it from there?” said Ms. Huberman.
She said the board would like to meet with the mayor-elect, and members of his party to better understand their plan, but that it will be “difficult” to change Mr. McCallum’s mind because he was elected on a platform that includes this commitment.