Opinion

Infrastructure request could be boost to Langley City

The City of Surrey is asking the federal government for $1.8 billion under a federal infrastructure program.

It wants the money to build three at-grade light rail systems, independent of TransLink. It has come to the conclusion that TransLink’s funding woes, and an apparent bias toward SkyTrain, will prevent South Fraser residents from getting rapid transit in a timely fashion.

This initiative is very important to Langley — and particularly to Langley City.

One of the three LRT systems that Surrey would like to build is along Fraser Highway, from the current King George SkyTrain station into Langley City. This would be a revolutionary advance in transportation, if it ever comes about.

There are a significant number of opponents of LRT in the Lower Mainland, and they have some valid points. One is that SkyTrain is totally separated from traffic and thus can move faster. They are correct.

However, an at-grade LRT system can still move people quite quickly. There are such systems in Edmonton, Calgary and, closer to home, in Seattle.

I have ridden the entire length of the Edmonton system, which goes from the northeast corner of the city to a point in the far south.  It uses some existing infrastructure, such as rail grades, and also tunnels under the downtown area. A second line is set to open next year. Overall, it is fast and moves a lot of people.

Perhaps even more relevant to what Surrey is proposing is the Sound Transit Link system in Seattle. It goes from downtown Seattle to the Sea-Tac Airport, and a considerable portion of its route is at grade.

The final stretch into the airport is separated from traffic, as is SkyTrain, but about half the route is at grade, just south of the downtown area near the two sports stadiums, and along Martin Luther King Way.

We used this system extensively while on holidays in Seattle in August, and were very impressed by it. Overall time between the two end points is reasonable, yet it serves a fair number of stations along the route. It accommodates cyclists and their bikes. It costs $2.75 per trip. At the end of the line, passengers can get off and walk  right into the airport.

What is particularly relevant to the current proposal is that it makes good time along a busy street, using a separated  right-of-way in the middle of the street, and traffic lights that are co-ordinated so the train can keep moving.

An LRT along Fraser Highway could travel in the middle of the street, and if traffic lights and crossing arms are co-ordinated, a trip between SkyTrain and Langley City would likely take about 20 to 25 minutes.

This might be slightly slower than SkyTrain, but any such line is decades away. While it was promised by former  premier Gordon Campbell near the end of his years in power, there was no funding commitment. With the cost of building SkyTrain and pressure to build rapid transit to UBC,  any such line is a distant pipe dream.

LRT to Langley within a decade would be a huge boost to this area.

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