SURREY (NEWS 1130) – The future of rapid transit south of the Fraser is set to go to a vote today, with TransLink’s new Mayors’ Council expected to endorse Surrey’s move to kill the city’s light rail transit project in favour of expanding SkyTrain.
It is a tall order for the council, which is swearing in a number of new members who were freshly-elected in last month’s municipal vote.
At the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote was named the new chair of the Mayors’ Council.
“I think it’s unfortunate the first Mayors’ Council meeting is going to have to grapple with such a big issue,” Cote said.
“But I think there is going to be an opportunity over the first part of the upcoming year for the new mayors to fully come up to speed with the TransLink file and all the issues we are dealing with. I have confidence that the new mayors are going to be well-positioned but there’s no doubt, for running out of the gate, it’s not an ideal situation.”
The Mayors’ Council is scheduled to vote on a proposal to permanently halt work on Surrey’s $1.65-billion light-rail line and request additional analysis before voting next month on moving ahead with planning for expanded SkyTrain south of the Fraser within the current funding framework.
“There is going to have to be proper planning and a business case associated with that. That work can definitely be done and the Mayors’ Council is going to need to spend some time very early on this term doing that work, but it’s not something that can be done on a whim,” Cote told NEWS 1130.
“We have $1.6 billion on the table. How can we move forward quickly to make sure we don’t lose that funding while ensuring we improve rapid transit in Metro Vancouver? No doubt the change in direction is going to delay that discussion because important work will need to happen, but I think a strong case can be made that the investment should remain south of the Fraser River.”
Cote says it is frustrating, as a returning mayor who has worked toward completing the council’s 10-year transportation plan, to make such a drastic change in course after LRT was approved and funded.
“I think that’s never a good practice for any government to make these decisions so late in the game. But there has to be recognition that this was a significant issue in the local election in Surrey and the new local government has a strong mandate to move forward with these changes.”
Cote says even if everything goes smoothly, he expects the switch to delay the expansion of rapid transit in the region by a minimum of one or two years.
WATCH: Metro Mayors to vote on new Surrey SkyTrain plan
TransLink has already spent $50 million on planning for light rail, and the city has spent $20 million in pre-construction work.
Newly elected Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has said he believes expanding SkyTrain can be done for the same cost as building the Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail transit line.
– With files from Martin MacMahon and Lasia Kretzel