Rendering shows possible look of SkyTrain station along Fraser Highway. (File photo)

FRANKLY SPEAKING: Put pressure on feds for SkyTrain funding to Langley

Ahead of the Oct. 21 election, now is time to secure financial commitments for train into the City

by Frank Bucholtz/Special to the Langley Advance Times

SkyTrain is on its way to Langley – but when will it finally arrive?

Metro Vancouver mayors on July 25 approved TransLink’s request to develop a detailed business plan on the extension from King George Station to somewhere in Fleetwood, along Fraser Highway.

That’s quite a change, considering that a year ago at this time, they were all gung-ho to build an at-grade LRT line from Newton to Guildford. Improved transit along Fraser Highway was a distant possibilty.

The SkyTrain extension will get as far as is possible for the $1.6 billion in approved funding, most of which is coming from federal and provincial governments. The first trains on the extension (the first south of the Fraser since 1994) will likely run in 2025.

The earliest probability as to when SkyTrain will arrive in Langley City, based on recent information, is somewhere around 2030. That is far too long to wait. Langley and the eastern portion of Surrey are growing rapidly, and transit options in the area are very limited.

Langley City and Langley Township councils are not sitting back. Their staffs are busy working on detailed approaches to senior governments for more funding to extend the SkyTrain into Langley City, which is the proposed terminus for the line. TransLink’s latest estimate of the cost of the whole line from King George to Langley City is $3.12 billion.

It is a very good time to do some extensive lobbying. A federal election takes place on Oct. 21, and the reality is that federal money will be the key factor in when the line is built.

Historically, transit projects in Metro Vancouver (and the rest of Western Canada) received little money or attention from Ottawa, which was mainly focused on seat-rich areas like Toronto and Montreal. Construction of the first two SkyTrain lines, the Expo and Millennium lines, got minimal help from the federal government. Capital costs were largely funded by the province, under both Social Credit and NDP governments.

Things started to change gradually during Liberal prime minister Paul Martin’s days in office, from 2004 to 2006. In the nine years to follow, under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, much more federal money was made available for the capital cost of transit projects.

The current federal government, under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, promised extensive infrastructure funding when campaigning in 2015. It has delivered a lot of money, including 40 per cent of the cost of the SkyTrain extension to Fleetwood. The province followed suit, with the NDP promising it would match the 40 per cent in the 2017 provincial election.

Both the federal Liberals and provincial NDP won big in Surrey and North Delta. The Liberals even won the Cloverdale-Langley City seat. The 17 Liberal seats in B.C. played a big role in Trudeau winning a majority in the House of Commons, and the seats won by NDP Premier John Horgan in 2017 ensured that his party could form a government, albeit with Green Party support.

It is almost certain that the Liberals are favourable to helping with the SkyTrain extension to Langley City. They and the Conservatives, the only other party with a chance to form government, need to be very specific as to how soon they make funding available.

The seats in Langley and Surrey are critical to both parties, and candidates need to be pressed hard on this issue.

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