TransLink Mayors' Council gives green light to planning for SkyTrain despite lack of density along Fraser Highway

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      Surrey mayor Doug McCallum has moved closer to his goal of getting a SkyTrain extension in his city.

      But it will cost his local taxpayers about $57 million to repay TransLink for costs it had already sunk into an approved and fully funded light rail line that would have connected Guildford and Newton with Surrey Centre.

      Yesterday, the TransLink Mayors' Council approved a staff proposal to conduct a 15-month time line to plan for a SkyTrain line from King George Station alongside the Fraser Highway.

      In addition, the TransLink Mayors' Council voted to require Surrey to refund TransLink for its costs for the LRT project, which has been suspended.

      According to TransLink, it would cost $2.6 billion to develop the SkyTrain extension 16 kilometres to its ultimate destination, Langley Centre.

      However, only $1.65 billion in funding has been secured. As a result, the first phase would terminate at either Fleetwood or Clayton Heights.

      Premier John Horgan has said that he's "absolutely delighted to fund the projects that we agreed to".

      "If the projects change, the funding will not," the premier declared. "The funding will remain the same.

      "We have already increased the provincial contribution so communities like here in Langford or communities in the north know that when we make a decision to fund projects, we're going to be firm on that," Horgan continued. "I care not about the technology. If Surrey wants to change to SkyTrain, that's fine. But they're going to get half as far as they would if they had LRT."

      City of Burnaby staff recently prepared a report [available by searching this site for December 10] comparing the Surrey-Newton-Guildford project with the Fraser Highway SkyTrain.

      It declared that if the LRT project was converted to SkyTrain, the available funding "would only cover half the length of the line".

      Burnaby staff also alluded to the lack of density along the Fraser Highway to justify SkyTrain. According to the report, this technology carries three times as many people per hour as the suspended light-rail project in Surrey—though some supporters of light rail disagree with that.

      "Financial efficiency and system-wide passenger-carrying capacity are maximized when each route is served by the appropriate technology," the report states. "However, SkyTrain is a popular technology, and is desired by some even when it provides capacity far in excess of forecasted demand.

      "A decision to construct SkyTrain to Langley based on the desire of the host municipality rather than technical considerations may set a precedent, encouraging the construction of expensive SkyTrain lines in other corridors where it is not justified by projected ridership. That will increase total system cost in the long term, or, alternatively, reduce the number of corridors that can be served."

      In fact, that's precisely what occurred when a former NDP government approved the Millennium Line SkyTrain through five NDP-held constituencies in Burnaby and New Westminster.

      Ridership was so low in the early years—due to the lack of population density—that TransLink introduced the U-Pass subsidy to lure more SFU students onto the system.

      That lifted ridership numbers, saving TransLink embarrassing news coverage about how few people were riding the new $1.2-billion line after it opened in 2002.

      The upside for TransLink executives, however, is that SkyTrain is a driverless system. That means it can continue running even if transit operators who drive the buses go on strike.