Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum sat down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver on Nov. 1, to discuss his plans to nix LRT in favour of a SkyTrain line and introduce a local police force.
McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, which took eight of the nine seats on council in the Oct. 20 election, 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.”
McCallum told the Now-Leader his team will put forward a formal motion to cancel the light rail project in Surrey at the inaugural meeting of the new council on Nov. 5, after campaigning on a promise to scrap the project in favour of SkyTrain.
Then, he will have to get his vision passed at the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. The first meeting of the newly elected mayors is set for Nov. 15 in New Westminster.
In all, the fully funded and approved Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line was estimated to cost $1.65 billion. Some have expressed doubt about whether Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum can get his envisioned SkyTrain extension along Fraser Highway to Langley 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. That cost is something that would have to be updated during a business case preparation stage, TransLink noted.
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.”
Last week, New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote 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.
Amid the project’s uncertainty, TransLink has extended the deadline for contractors wishing to build the line.
“Given the City of Surrey’s indication that they plan to begin a discussion with the new Mayors’ Council regarding rapid transit in Surrey, we’ve extended the RFQ (Request for Qualifications) deadline until December 19,” said Chris Bryan, Senior Media Relations Advisor for TransLink, in an emailed statement.
“This has been done at the request of proponents to allow for more time to receive clarity from the Mayors’ Council on policy direction,” Bryan added.
The deadline was initially to be Nov. 21.
TransLink kicked off the procurement phase of the LRT project in early September.
It launched after Trudeau came to Surrey and “officially launched” the fully-funded and approved project on Sept. 4.
The project description for contractors, currently open on BC Bid, includes constructing the LRT-line with 11 passenger stops, road widening and improvements, building a new operations and maintenance facility, as well as improvements at transit exchanges at Newton, Guildford, Surrey Central and King George.
The scope of the project also includes work along the streetscape, as well as cycling and pedestrian ways.