A pledge by Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom to consider light rail transit (LRT) technology to expand rapid transit South of the Fraser is a significant step forward, area mayors say.
The minister isn’t excluding SkyTrain but has made it clear all options are on the table and recognized Surrey’s rapid growth.
“We are examining the use of LRT as well as the potential for bus rapid transit and SkyTrain technology to provide frequent, fast and reliable service to communities south of the Fraser River,” he said in a Nov. 9 letter to mayors, adding that work is continuing in partnership with TransLink and local cities.
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said he’s taking the statement as a shift in the province’s stance from that of former Premier Gordon Campbell, who had vowed to extend SkyTrain in Surrey down the Fraser Highway to Langley.
Fassbender and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts have both been advocating for LRT.
“It’s a recognition that LRT is one of the options we want to seriously look at,” Fassbender said.
“There may be some good rationale for expansion of SkyTrain to Guildford, for example, but not necessarily coming out to Langley city centre,” he said.
Advocates see at-grade LRT with more local stations as a technology that can better connect neighbourhoods within a city, rather than SkyTrain, which critics say is more oriented to speeding commuters to and from the rest of the region.
Watts said in her letter to Lekstrom an at-grade rail system is “integral” to connecting town centres and supporting businesses and economic development.
Merchants are less likely to benefit from elevated SkyTrain lines because potential customers don’t have the ability to exit right at street level.
TransLink is in the midst of its Surrey Rapid Transit Study to help determine preferred routes and technologies for an expansion that could link White Rock and Langley as well.
The initial phase came up with 10 options using SkyTrain, LRT, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or combinations thereof on the King George Boulevard, Fraser Highway and 104 Avenue corridors at costs ranging from $650 million to more than $2 billion.
TransLink has pledged to refine those options by early next year and the province would work with TransLink and local cities to make a final choice.
Local cities aren’t just waiting for the TransLink process and consultations to play out.
The City of Surrey has repeatedly touted the potential of light rail on the same corridors TransLink is studying, preparing video animations to depict how an LRT system in north Surrey would work.
Fassbender said he has confidence in the TransLink process, adding the mayors weren’t trying to short-circuit it by directly lobbying the minister.
Watts said Surrey has been pushing for increased provincial spending on transit in local cities for some time.
How any rapid transit extension further in Surrey is funded will depend heavily on talks between the mayors and the province over new revenue sources for TransLink.
Vancouver also wants a rapid transit extension down the Broadway corridor to UBC and TransLink has been working on a similar study to shortlist options for that line.