Budget for Surrey LRT climbs to $2.6 billion

$500-million jump in estimated price driven by rising land costs, low Canadian dollar

Rendering of Surrey's proposed light rail lines

The price tag for Surrey’s planned light rail transit system is now estimated at $2.6 billion, up from the $2.14-billion estimate that Metro Vancouver mayors used during last year’s transit tax referendum.

The jump is due to a series of inflationary factors, from the rising costs of land and LRT vehicles to the low Canadian dollar making imports more expensive, according to Paul Lee, rapid transit and strategic project manager for the City of Surrey.

“Land is a huge component,” Lee said, citing the rapid climb in real estate prices in the region.

“It’s a real worry. Land value is going up so fast. If we don’t start construction until 2018, it will be another two years. You get nervous.”

The Surrey LRT project consists of 27 kilometres of street-level light rail lines radiating out of City Centre along 104 Avenue, King George Boulevard and down Fraser Highway to Langley City.

Lee also noted the $2.14-billion estimate adopted by the mayors’ council in 2014 was based on work done by TransLink as far back as 2012.

“That cost was very dated,” Lee said. “By the time the mayors’ council put it up there were questions on it.”

More design work has since been done and there’s a better idea of what land acquisitions will be needed to accommodate sidewalks, landscaping and other components.

In some cases, Lee said, longer station platforms are now envisioned to potentially handle longer trains – increasing the land requirement.

He cautioned that project estimates are a guide for planning but final costs depend on what contractors actually bid.

“We’d rather err on the high side than get a shock in the end.”

The new estimate was contained in a March 7 City of Surrey staff report outlining infrastructure projects seeking federal funding.

Surrey spearheaded the project initially, first applying for federal funding in 2014.

TransLink staff are now preparing business cases for both Surrey LRT and the Broadway SkyTrain extension in Vancouver.

Lee said he expects that to be complete sometime later this year.

He hopes for a construction start as soon as early 2018.

Officials will take a close look at project costs and consider options to reduce costs.

“We may shrink the road a bit, we may narrow the pavement a bit, we may forgo things here and there. We want to minimize the land cost,” Lee said.

The section of line on 104 Avenue will now terminate at 152 Street, he added, instead of 156 Street.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said the original LRT estimate wasn’t believable.

“TransLink and the mayors were using old numbers in the plebiscite to hoodwink people into voting Yes,” he said.

Bateman said he’s surprised land acquisition costs are a problem.

“Part of the reason I thought they were looking at light rail was because Surrey has pretty substantial road right-of-ways.”

Bateman said he expects the planned Broadway subway and the Pattullo Bridge projects will also face cost increases, for similar reasons.

Metro mayors and provincial government officials hope more generous federal contributions than in the past will reduce the amount of money that must be raised locally.

The LRT project has faced steady criticism from some transit advocates who argue a SkyTrain extension in Surrey would be better choice.

“We’re now seeing higher costs,” said SkyTrain For Surrey‘s Daryl Dela Cruz. “Are we really providing the kind of value that LRT is supposedly all about?”