TransLink CEO weighs in on Surrey’s move from LRT to SkyTrain

Kevin Desmond says he’ll work with Surrey, and the region’s 22 other mayors

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond says it could be possible to build SkyTrain to Langley for a lower cost than initially thought, but not $1.9 billion as Surrey’s new mayor has promised.

Desmond made the comment to reporters following his address to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver Thursday. It was his first appearance since Surrey’s new city council nixed long-term plans for light rail in favour of SkyTrain.

Desmond said government funding was likely to switch over seamlessly between light rail and SkyTrain.

“The signals we have heard publicly from both the governments of Canada and British Columbia is both levels of government are willing to see what our Mayors’ Council [on Regional Transportation] and our board decides,” he said.

“From what I’ve heard… they want to make sure that public transit infrastructure is delivered in Surrey. That signals to me that there will be flexibility.”

The mayors’ 10-year vision on transportation has been thrown into uncertainty ever since Doug McCallum snagged the mayor’s chair in Surrey during the municipal election on Oct. 20. He had campaigned on a promise to abandon the LRT plans and expand SkyTrain instead to reduce congestion.

READ MORE: Surrey council unanimously passes motion to ‘cancel ’ LRT

The mayors’ council, which includes 17 new members since the municipal vote, is set to meet for the first time next Thursday.

McCallum had promised to extend SkyTrain to Langley for the same cost as LRT, or at least closer to the $1.4-billion price of the similar-length Evergreen SkyTrain extension in the Tri-Cities.

“There are different ways to build the line that might reduce the cost,” Desmond said.

But he added he wasn’t aware of any extra funding to make up the nearly billion-dollar cost difference between $1.9 billion light rail and $2.9 billion SkyTrain.

He wouldn’t provide a timeline for the potential SkyTrain extension, saying “a lot of discussions” still need to be had with provincial and federal governments, as well as with the new members of the mayors’ council, as well as public engagement and design work.

Desmond acknowledged the $50-70 million that TransLink estimates it has already spent on light rail is a sunk cost. But added: “If the City of Surrey does not want that project and will not cooperate with that project, we cannot build that project.”

Surrey council unanimously passes motion to ‘cancel ’ LRT

He said TransLink had not yet looked into McCallum’s idea of ground-level SkyTrain running along agricultural land beside Fraser Highway, but that staff are open to alternatives from municipal officials.

Whichever way the region decided to go, Desmond said, “one way or the other we’re going to build rail in Surrey.”


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