Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman. (File photo)

Surrey Board of Trade ‘disappointed’ with switch to SkyTrain, says delay imminent

SBOT has long supported the former council’s light rail transit vision

The Surrey Board of Trade is not pleased that Mayor Doug McCallum’s SkyTrain vision received regional support on Nov. 15, effectively bringing the former council’s fully funded light rail vision to a screeching halt.

In a release, the business group says it’s “disappointed that Surrey transportation investments are delayed — again.”

SBOT has long been in favour of LRT, and ahead of the Nov. 15 decision, CEO Anita Huberman spoke as a delegation at the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. She proposed that TransLink build LRT in phase one, as planned, and work towards planning a SkyTrain on Fraser Highway in phase two, “as a compromise.”

But that wasn’t to be.

After a four-hour meeting, the region’s mayors voted to halt the LRT plan, and instead begin work on a SkyTrain extension down Fraser Highway.

See more: Metro Vancouver mayors cancel Surrey LRT in favour of SkyTrain

“What was clear at today’s meeting is that Surrey will again be delayed in transportation investments. It took nearly 10 years to develop the current transportation plan,” Huberman said in a release after the decision.

“I doubt very much that it will take a couple of Mayors’ Council meetings to develop and approve what will likely be a completely re-worked plan,” she added. “I am also very doubtful that the costing details of SkyTrain construction or property tax impacts on businesses, will be ready in one month.”

SBOT says without the $1.65 billion Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line being built – which would have connected Newton to City Centre via King George Boulevard, and City Centre to Guildford via 104th Avenue – Newton will become more gridlocked.

The business group also says it will take longer to build SkyTrain to Langley, than it would have to build LRT, and expressed concern about whether business property taxes would increase to subsidize the SkyTrain project.

SBOT stated that the current funding will only take SkyTrain to 160th Street in Fleetwood, something Langley Councillor Nathan Pachal has expressed concern about as well.

Further, the business group says it’s “misleading” to say SkyTrain will “replace” LRT “as the proposed SkyTrain route down the Fraser Highway does nothing for the Newton and Guildford Town Centres – in fact LRT was to also add vibrancy to Downtown Surrey.”

SBOT is also critical of the money being “thrown away” as a result of the decision, pointing to the “$20 million already invested in LRT by the City of Surrey, and the $50 million spent by TransLink, when there is no evidence that Skytrain is better than LRT.”

Other Surrey business groups have also held the LRT torch.

In recent months, Fleetwood BIA expressed staunch opposition to SkyTrain along Fraser Highway, and has advocated strongly for LRT.

In September, the executive director of the business group told the Now-Leader SkyTrain would be a “noisy monstrosity” and is the wrong choice for the area’s businesses and residents.

“It’s short sighted. This doesn’t benefit anybody in the community,” said Dean Barbour, in the lead up to the Oct. 20 election. “I think people are going to be extremely mad.”

See more: Fleetwood BIA comes out swinging against SkyTrain, releases renderings

The business group went so far as to superimpose a light rail track and a SkyTrain line over two images of intersection in its town core — one at 160th Street, the other at 159th Street, along Fraser Highway — to highlight the visual difference between the two technologies.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Barbour.

For its part, Newton BIA has also championed light rail transit.

Newton Town Centre would have been home to the LRT “terminus station,” just south of 72nd Avenue on King George Boulevard.

See more: Second annual ‘State of Newton’ focuses on safety and light rail

“LRT was going to be the catalyst for revitalization and transform Newton,” Aguirre told the Now-Leader after the Mayors’ Council’s decision to halt the plan. “In my opinion with the decision to stop all work on the LRT line, the community of Newton has been abandoned again. With 146,000 people and 33 per cent of all business in Surrey, the business case and land use plan were going to shape the future growth of the community. Redevelopment, increased density & a vibrant connected livable community have now all been delayed another 20 years.”

Aguirre said “neither the mayor or any city councillor has made it a priority to discuss theses issues with the Newton BIA.”

The decision is “jeopardizing the future of Newton,” added Aguirre. “The town centre will not be connected to the rest of the city with rapid transit for a very long time. The future outlook for small independent businesses that would trigger economic growth and jobs in the area could stagnate for the immediate future. The vision of creating a cultural entertainment district without rapid transit seems unlikely.”

Aguirre wondered what local MLAs and MPs think of the move, pointing to Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains, Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims, as well as Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal.

“Is the provincial and federal government satisfied that Newton will have to wait for another 20 plus years?” he questioned. “Refreshed plans for how the community is going to be revitalized have been piling up over the past 30 years. Its disappointing that Newton will have to start all over again.”

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