As promised, Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition have passed a motion to “cancel” the planned light rail system in the city, minutes after being sworn in Monday night.
The motion directs city staff to “stop all work” on the LRT project and immediately start working with TransLink on a SkyTrain extension down Fraser Highway to Langley.
It also requests that the Mayors’ Council and TransLink follow suit and “immediately initiate a new SkyTrain extension,” as well as transfer the approved funding to the project “as soon as possible.”
McCallum said he intends to have the Surrey SkyTrain extension built “around the clock.”
McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition slate, which holds eight of nine seats on Surrey council, tabled and passed the motion at a Nov. 5 meeting immediately following the swearing-in ceremony at city hall.
Linda Annis, the lone Surrey First councillor elected on Oct. 20, also voted in favour, making it unanimous.
“I’m supporting them on the LRT, SkyTrain issue, I’m looking for them to stay on budget and to build infrastructure in place on the Newton corridor so we’ve got proper transit, can build a proper, safe community and put some density in there,” said Annis.
Nixing the LRT plan was a promise of McCallum and his team along the campaign trail ahead of their election.
“I believe that this is an historic day for all of us, and we will only truly appreciate its significant in hindsight,” said Councillor Allison Patton before the vote.
To the electorate, Councillor Steven Pettigrew said “you told us you wanted SkyTrain so we’re going to do it.”
— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) November 6, 2018
#BREAKING: Second motion of new #SurreyBC council is to "cancel" the Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail line. Passes unanimously. It asks staff to "stop all work" on LRT and "immediately" start working with TransLink on a SkyTrain extension down Fraser Highway. pic.twitter.com/K04DTcQAa5
— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) November 6, 2018
Next, McCallum will have to get his vision passed at the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. The first meeting of the region’s newly elected mayors is set for Nov. 15 in New Westminster.
McCallum told reporters that he will continue to speak with mayors around the region to drum up support.
TransLink issued a statement Monday evening, following Surrey council’s decision.
In light of the resolution, TransLink says it is “pausing work on the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT Project and suspending the RFQ process while we await direction from the Mayors’ Council and the TransLink Board.”
TransLink says it’s “committed to improving rapid transit in Surrey and Langley and we look forward to working with the Mayors’ Council, the City of Surrey, and the City and Township of Langley to advance the best options for the people south of the Fraser and the entire region as quickly as possible.”
In all, the fully funded and approved Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line was estimated to cost $1.65 billion.
After the motion passed, SkyTrain for Surrey founder Daryl Dela Cruz praised the new council’s move.
“We think it’s an important day for people in Surrey and Langley,” he said. “It’s an important victory. Its a message that we want to build a transit system that will significantly reduce travel time, cut commute time and connect people with the rest of the region.”
McCallum sat down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver on Nov. 1, to discuss his plans to halt LRT, among other things.
The mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition tweeted that it was a “great meeting” and that Trudeau is “supportive of our mandate in which the citizens of Surrey elected us on to bring in a local Surrey police force and to build SkyTrain instead of LRT.”
Some have expressed doubt about whether Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum can get his envisioned SkyTrain extension built with the money already on the table.
TransLink says that a 16.5 kilometre SkyTrain line along Fraser Highway to Langley would cost about $2.9 billion, according to a preliminary cost estimates report completed in 2017, but McCallum insists the line can be done with the money that’s been committed, partly because he intends for part of the system to be built “at grade,” or at ground level, which would “significantly” reduce the price tag.
And, because of the total cost of the Evergreen Line.
“The Evergreen Line came in a year-and-a-half ago at $1.4 billion,” said McCallum. “So we think that even if you add inflation, and maybe the cost of some of the materials to be a little bit more, that we can still build it along Fraser Highway at $1.65 billion.”
According to McCallum, TransLink’s estimates “as far as rapid transit are not very accurate.”
Meantime, New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote has suggested Surrey should pay back the $50 million TransLink says it has spent on planning light rail in the city, but McCallum said that won’t be happening.
“We have no intention of paying that,” McCallum told the Now-Leader. “It’s TransLink’s problem, and it’s their mistake because they didn’t do any public consulting.”
That $50 million, according to TransLink spokeswoman Jill Drews, has been spent on technical studies, preliminary design, planning, consultation and early works.
McCallum questioned the figure.
“I’ve asked TransLink where that figure comes from, line by line. Where did they get to that? At this point they’ve refused to give it to me. I don’t believe it,” said the incoming mayor, adding that things like staff time can’t be part of the equation.
McCallum said switching technologies, like he intends to do for Surrey, isn’t unprecedented.
“When I was (TransLink) chairman doing other lines, TransLink spent money studying light rail down the Arbutus corridor and the people in Vancouver didn’t want that. They wanted it switched to SkyTrain technology down Cambie Street. They never requested Vancouver pay back the fees that were spent,” he noted.