COLUMN: Surrey has challenges

COLUMN: Surrey has challenges

A great deal has been invested in new roads, bridges, overpasses and other infrastructure but transit spending has lagged behind badly.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts zeroed in on three critical needs in her annual State of the City address last Wednesday.

Even though there have been some strides forward, they have never brought Surrey close to catching up with needs in the areas of health care, education and transportation.

Perhaps one of the most interesting details was the idea of an “Innovation Boulevard,” stretching from Surrey Memorial Hospital to Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus. This would involve installation of high speed fibre optic service and other infrastructure that could serve to attract medical research and innovation, and bring a focus on medical technology to Surrey.

The presence of the University of B.C. with its medical school, coupled with numerous hospitals which specialize in various areas of medicine, has meant that researchers and innovators usually want to locate in Vancouver.

Yet the population of the area south of the Fraser keeps growing, and medical needs also grow.

While Surrey Memorial Hospital now handles many more complex cases than it once did, most critical and specialized cases end up in Vancouver.

It doesn’t make sense to duplicate expensive specialized care for those with challenging medical conditions.

An emphasis on innovation, and the infrastructure to make it come about more easily, could mark a sea change in how the medical community views Surrey.

Watts also talked about education. While basic educational needs are being met by the K-12 system, and new schools are being built, she called for provincial funding for a specialized high school near 24 Avenue and 168 Street which would emphasize learning, active living and sport excellence.

Of even more importance was her emphasis on the lack of post-secondary opportunities.

Surrey is the largest school district in B.C., yet students with 75 per cent averages cannot get into university. Students are told they must take post-secondary training to get good jobs, both at university and technical schools, but this is not open to many of them.

It’s great that Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University are located in Surrey, and that Kwantlen has an excellent trades campus in Cloverdale. Much more attention to this critical shortage of space for post-secondary training is needed from the province.

Watts’ third emphasis was on transportation, and she noted that without changes to TransLink, there is little hope of expanded transit service.

However, on Monday, the province and TransLink mayors’ council said they will be working on a plan to improve funding and governance issues at TransLink.

A great deal has been invested in new roads, bridges, overpasses and other infrastructure, and this is needed. But at the same time, transit spending in Surrey and other South Fraser cities has lagged behind badly.

Transit is critical to Surrey’s future, and all levels of government need to understand this.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

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