Skip to main content

The Central City complex is seen through SkyTrain tracks in Surrey, B.C. City staff work on transit cost breakdown and are preparing to submit proposal for a public-private partnership.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Surrey is working on a Plan B to ensure the fast-growing metropolis gets the light-rail transit line it will need even if a regionwide plebiscite on a 0.5-per-cent hike to the provincial sales tax to fund transit improvements is defeated.

City staff have been working on a detailed cost breakdown and preparing submissions for Ottawa's PPP Canada wing, which assesses public-private partnerships and decides on federal contributions.

Paul Lee, rapid transit and strategic projects manager for Surrey's engineering department, said in an interview that the city does not want to lose its place in the queue of proposals for similar lines across Canada.

"The longer you wait, the more difficult it is to convince Ottawa that we're serious about this," he said. "You have all these competitions across the country. If you stop, you stop at your peril."

Work is proceeding because of pressures to compete for federal dollars to cover one-third of the project's estimated $2-billion cost.

On Wednesday, Mayor Linda Hepner said she was sticking to an election-night commitment last November that Surrey will have 10 kilometres of a planned 27-kilometre light rail system by election night in 2018.

"We need that light rail irrespective of what happens," Ms. Hepner said during a Yes campaign stop at a Surrey SkyTrain station.

Ballots are to be available by March 16 for a voting period that lasts until May 29.

If the No side wins, Ms. Hepner said light rail would still come to her city along the promised timetable. "It's just going to come at a greater cost."

Asked whether Surrey voters could vote No in the transit plebiscite and still get the light rail, Ms. Hepner said: "Their pocketbooks won't look the same. They need to vote Yes."

She declined to detail the revenue options Surrey would look at if there's a No vote.

Gordon Price, a former Vancouver city councillor now director of Simon Fraser University's City Program, said Ms. Hepner may be referring to development fees or property taxes as a funding source.

Whatever the outcome of the plebiscite, Mr. Price said he expects there will be a strong desire for new transit in Surrey and the city may have a strong advocate in Ottawa in former mayor Dianne Watts, who is running for the federal Conservatives in a Surrey riding.

Mr. Lee said Surrey is looking for a third of the capital funding from Ottawa, one-third from Victoria and the city will have to find another third.

Surrey was accepted for further review last year by PPP Canada, but has to continue finalizing cost estimates for submission by the end of the year, Mr. Lee said.

The City of Vancouver communications department did not respond to a query about where things stand, on a similar front, with Vancouver's bid for a Broadway subway.

Ms. Hepner met with voters at two Yes campaign events Wednesday morning, and has a telephone town hall scheduled for Thursday night.

She acknowledged it has been a challenge attracting voter attention. "We're trying every single avenue – radio, television, newspapers, on the ground to make sure people understand the plan – but with busy lives, it's a tough message. We just have to keep hammering away at it."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe