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Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts takes a100-per-cent electric Nissan Leaf for a test drive after leaving a charging station at City Hall in Surrey last October.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A burgeoning health-technologies industry will help bolster Surrey's place as the region's second metropolitan centre, but the fast-growing city still faces roadblocks with a stunted transportation network and postsecondary facilities that are running out of space.

At her annual state of the city address, held at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel on Wednesday, Mayor Dianne Watts announced the creation of the Mayor's Health Technology Working Group, which she will co-chair with Ryan D'Arcy, a Simon Fraser University neuroscientist and newly appointed research chair for multimodal technology at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

The group will comprise leaders from the health, education and development communities and shape the newly named Innovation Boulevard – the stretch between SFU and Surrey Memorial in Surrey City Centre that is already home to more than 180 health companies.

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"We want to harness new opportunities in the health technologies industry, which is worth about $300-billion a year," Ms. Watts said in a statement issued during her address. "Innovation Boulevard will connect the dots and build a world-class centre that will enhance patient care and propel economic growth in our city."

The city will look at expanding a dedicated, high-speed fibre-optic network – important infrastructure in the health technology and research community, currently available at SFU Surrey – along Innovation Boulevard.

As well, Ms. Watts noted that Surrey Memorial is undergoing a $512-million expansion, the largest for a hospital in B.C. history. It will add 650 new staff members, including 60 doctors.

However, the mayor acknowledged the city is not without its challenges. There have been 11 homicides in Surrey this year; of those, four bodies were found along the same rural road, prompting the city to install lights and cameras.

Ms. Watts said that while "law enforcement and government can only do so much" to address societal challenges, the city's crime reduction strategy has worked with youth to help "prevent individuals from choosing or being drawn into a life of crime." The demographic that commits most crimes is between 18 and 24, she said.

Meanwhile, the number of marijuana grow operations in Surrey has decreased by 81 per cent since 2007, which Ms. Watts credited to an electrical-fire safety initiative by Surrey Fire Service. Firefighters also visited 40,000 homes to inspect smoke alarms, installing 537.

The mayor also reiterated the need for rapid transit in Surrey, calling for a change in provincial legislation and TransLink's governance structure.

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"[With] the current structure, the independent, unelected board and TransLink develop the transportation plan," she told the crowd. "By provincial legislation, the only role that the mayors' council has is to accept or reject that plan, have no input and make no changes. … The mayors' council must fund the plan it has no input into and the province determines what tools we can use to fund it. The fundamental issue is that the current tools are not sustainable and the structure doesn't work."

Surrey contributes $144-million a year to TransLink but has only six kilometres of the region's 80 kilometres of rapid-transit lines, Ms. Watts pointed out. About 70 per cent of the region's growth is now south of the Fraser, but Surrey has had no rapid-transit expansion in 20 years.

Another top priority is additional capacity for Surrey's postsecondary facilities.

"Fifty per cent of postsecondary students in the region are from Surrey," Ms. Watts said. "A quarter of all B.C. students are from Surrey or south of the Fraser. And here's a fun fact: Surrey has 13 spaces for every 100 students. Compare that to 49 spaces per 100 for the rest of the communities in B.C. That is just simply not good enough."

SFU's Surrey campus needs 2,500 spaces by 2015 to fulfill a memorandum of understanding signed by the province in 2006, while Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Surrey campus will need 3,500 spaces to fulfill the needs of coming years, she said. Due to a lack of space, high school students now must have grades of 85 per cent for acceptance into SFU Surrey.

"We are turning away thousands of academically qualified students," Ms. Watts said.

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Surrey is now home to half a million people – a figure that has grown 41 per cent since 2001.

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