Vancouver should pare down its overly ambitious plan for a $2-billion-plus buried SkyTrain line along Broadway toward UBC, says Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.
She said she’s not worried the heavily promoted Vancouver rapid transit line might take priority ahead of Surrey’s aim of building light rail lines.
But Watts warned “nobody’s getting anything” until there’s a deal with the province to generate much more money in taxes or tolls for TransLink and it will be important to keep a lid on costs of proposed projects if that process is to succeed.
“We can have all the grandiose ideas that we want but unless that sustainable funding policy is in place, nothing’s going to happen,” she said.
“Vancouver wants to push their agenda and they have every right to do that. But I would suggest that the multi-billion-dollar project that they’re proposing is not going to fly with residents in Surrey – and Surrey residents will be contributing to it.”
It’s the first time Surrey representatives have taken a direct shot at Vancouver’s plans.
The two cities have sought to advance their rapid transit agendas in tandem without being drawn into a potentially divisive conflict over scarce funding that could unravel the broad consensus at the regional mayors’ council in dealing with Victoria.
Watts spoke after Vancouver officials – led by Mayor Gregor Robertson – recently stepped up their pitch for rapid transit on the heavily congested Broadway corridor.
Vancouver planners have concluded a buried SkyTrain subway is needed to avoid paralyzing traffic on Broadway with street-level light rail trains or streetcars.
Watts challenged Vancouver and UBC officials to instead to consider other alternatives – like following SFU’s lead and building new campuses that could serve UBC students on existing transit lines.
“UBC’s a small city and they built it at the end of a peninsula as far away as they could,” Watts said. “There has to be some critical thinking. Does it make sense to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure? Or does it make sense to have satellite campuses in other areas of the region?”
Part of the problem, Watts said, is that development at UBC has focused on market housing – adding to the population there – rather than student housing, which would have reduced the demand on transit corridors.
Surrey wants three light rail lines – along 104 Avenue to Guildford, down King George Boulevard toward White Rock and southeast along Fraser Highway towards Langley.
Watts said the price tag of about $2 billion is far less and covers more of Surrey than if more expensive SkyTrain was used.
There are four SkyTrain stations in north Surrey, but a better network of rapid transit connecting town centres is considered critical to shaping future growth of the city, so developers build transit-friendly walkable neighbourhoods, not ones designed mainly for cars.
“We want at-grade rail to shape the city because we’re building the city,” Watts said. “Which is a very different goal and measure from a city that’s already built out.”
Advocates of light rail in Vancouver have also criticized Vancouver’s SkyTrain proposal as too costly.
Building SkyTrain to UBC would cost an estimated $3.2 billion, but Robertson has suggested going only to Arbutus and then switching to rapid buses to lower the cost. The light rail option on Broadway all the way to UBC was estimated at $1.1 billion.
Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs called Watts’ comments an “interesting discussion” but added Vancouver hopes to make its rationale better understood across the region.
He said Vancouver could make the argument that Surrey corridors should be built with B-Line bus service first ahead of rail in light of current Surrey ridership, but it has not done so.
“We don’t quarrel with Surrey’s aspirations to grow a progressive rapid transit system,” Meggs said.
He also pointed out the debate comes as the “widest bridge in the world” opens giving Surrey residents improved transportation as part of the $3.3-billion Port Mann/Highway 1 project.
Meggs said more than half the ridership on the Broadway corridor comes from outside Vancouver and a tunnelled SkyTrain there to UBC is the most effective solution on a route where jammed buses pass up 2,000 riders a day.
“We have more jobs on the Broadway corridor today than Richmond and Burnaby combined, both of which have LRT.”
Buses on Broadway already carry loads nearing that of a light rail system, Meggs said, adding it’s not logical to spend large amounts on intermediate-level service that would permanently disrupt business through lost parking and a ban on most left turns.
“It’s important for us to understand the long-term thinking behind Surrey’s LRT proposal,” Meggs said. “And it’s good for Surrey to understand why our staff are very concerned about the replacement of a rapid bus system with a [light rail] system.”