TransLink has produced options for extending rapid transit in Surrey, and none of them come cheaply.
Costs begin at the lower end with $900 million for a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, which would see buses on three major routes move on a dedicated roadway and at faster speeds than conventional buses.
The options then accelerate into the billions with combinations of buses and at-grade rail transit, to a top projected cost of $2.2 billion for a SkyTrain extension from King George station to Langley along Fraser Highway, and BRT on King George Boulevard to Newton and White Rock, and along 104 Avenue to Guildford.
There is no question that transit service in Surrey needs to expand significantly. The second-largest city in B.C. and in the Metro Vancouver region has modest bus service, and a heavily used SkyTrain line that only goes as far as 100 Avenue and King George.
While Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says it isn’t so, Surrey is also competing with Vancouver for what is likely to be scarce funding for SkyTrain or other rapid transit extensions. Vancouver wants a subway or SkyTrain line to go along Broadway, from Commercial Drive in the city’s east end to UBC. Costs could top $3 billion.
Surrey council would like to see at-grade fast bus or rail service. Council insists, with some justification, that SkyTrain is a blight on immediate properties, given that it towers over them or next to them. It wants to see a cleaner streetscape.
Take Fraser Highway for example. A number of larger multi-family units have been built along that road. The city has spent millions in widening the highway and planting perimeter vegetation. Bus stops with proper pull-outs have been added in the newer areas of the widening protect. The Serpentine River bridge has been twinned, and the final stage of widening is underway.
Would people who have spent hundreds of thousands in buying homes along there, or businesses along the street, appreciate SkyTrain? It would apply more pressure for added density, which is not bad if Surrey wants more transit, but any rapid transit system will do the same.
Surrey wants to see more internal trips taken by transit, and council feels an at-grade system will make that more possible. TransLink points out, in its SkyTrain scenario, that trips would be quicker – about seven minutes faster (22 minutes versus 29 minutes) from Langley to King George.
What Vancouver and Burnaby have, and Surrey does not, is significant numbers of the populace who use transit daily because it is quick and convenient. Surrey has few such transit routes, and many people in Surrey travel great distances each day.
It seems to me that one of TransLink’s and the region’s goals should be to reduce the length of trips, as well as the commuting time. Yes, people will always want to go into Vancouver, but many also travel within Surrey or south of the Fraser, and it’s hard to do that by bus in many instances.
Surrey residents and council need to consider carefully what type of transit expansion will suit them and the city best, now and into the future.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.