A rendering of an LRT train on King George Boulevard.

Surrey defends LRT plan with economic study

Mayor touts benefits of light rail but SkyTrain fans not swayed

The City of Surrey is trumpeting its case for two light rail transit (LRT) lines with a study that claims the system will generate big economic benefits.

The report’s release is officially aimed at forming part of the business case to secure federal funding for the $2.1-billion project.

But it also comes as city officials seek to quell continued opposition to the choice of ground-level light rail technology over elevated SkyTrain from some critics in Surrey and Langley, and to help ensure the project proceeds even if the Metro Vancouver transit funding referendum is defeated.

The Shirocca Consulting study claims 24,600 direct and indirect jobs would be created in B.C. during construction and $1.4 billion would be paid in wages and salaries.

The provincial government would collect $132 million in taxes and $354 million in tax would flow to the federal government, and still more would accrue over the next 30 years of operations.

Mayor Linda Hepner argues the taxes generated will help offset the capital grants she wants senior governments to make to finance Surrey LRT.

She said it’s the most cost-effective rapid transit option to connect the city’s town centres.

“We can get one and a half to two times as much light rail compared to SkyTrain,” Hepner said. “And it also animates and develops and shapes the community instead of acting as just a simple mode of transportation.”

A Langley Township transportation manager recently cautioned that LRT seems designed to move Surrey residents within the city at the expense of a no-transfer, more reliable and likely faster ride for passengers from Langley through Surrey if the Fraser Highway line is built with SkyTrain instead.

Although the province overruled the original local choice of LRT for the Evergreen Line in favour of SkyTrain, Hepner said she’s confident the province understands the need for LRT in Surrey and noted it has the agreement of the Metro mayors’ council.

“It was chosen under the mayors’ plan as a priority project and agreed regionally that light rail was the way to go in terms of connectability and what we could get.”

The Surrey LRT project proposes a 10.9-kilometre “L-line” linking Guildford, Surrey City Centre and Newton that would open by 2023, and a 17.1-kilometre line from City Centre to Langley City opening by 2028.

Service is assumed to be every five minutes, falling to every three minutes with an expected service upgrade in 2041.

Light rail would have more stations than SkyTrain and be more pedestrian-friendly, offering “both eyes on the street and from the street visibility,” the report said.

“Unlike Rapid Bus or SkyTrain alternatives, the LRT will have a permanent physical presence in their exclusive rights-of-way and yet be at a human scale and have a gentle footprint in keeping with the lower density portions of the line.”

The study argues the light rail lines will be a magnet for other high-tech and health sciences employers, resulting in more jobs springing up along the network.

It notes access to Surrey Memorial Hospital would improve, accelerating the development of that area as a growing health technology centre.

And it predicts increased investment in high-quality residential, commercial and civic development that would increase the tax base and add jobs in both Surrey City Centre and Langley’s town centre.

More households may be able to afford homes in the area, it says, because the line will allow more residents to forego a car.

SkyTrain for Surrey advocate Daryl Dela Cruz said the Shirocca report appears to emphasize economics and development because the actual transit improvement case from LRT is weak.

“Commuters don’t want to know about these vague details – they want to know if they’ll be able to get around easier,” Dela Cruz said.

His group proposes SkyTrain to Langley on Fraser Highway – which would get riders boarding in Langley to Waterfront Station in under an hour – and bus rapid transit instead of light rail on other corridors.

Light rail on King George would be only one minute faster than the existing 96 B-Line express bus to Newton, he said, while 104 Avenue would end up more congested with the loss of a lane of traffic to LRT.

“It would seem that the results have more to do with appeasing developers, business prospects, pro-light rail advocates and other such entities as opposed to transit riders and the actual stakeholders on the proposed lines,” Dela Cruz said.

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