November 1, 2018

Where the Buck Stops — McCallum’s Surrey Skytrain

We want more Skytrain

Despite the Mayor’s Council and its 10-year transportation plan that’s been around for a while now, along with a bunch of hard-to-get Federal and Provincial money, Surrey’s new mayor Doug McCallum wants to change it.

Mayor McCallum wants transit, but on a new route in Surrey to new destinations, using different (Skytrain) technology. Blow up the Mayor’s Council’s 10-year plan, and blow up the City of Surrey’s Community (Land Use) Plan.

And it’s sort of late in the game. More background HERE and HERE.

Not surprisingly, there has been reaction from several parties to this development:

Reaction to Mayor McCallum’s Surrey Skytrain:

Feds:  looking at you, Mayor’s Council.

Plus behind-the-potted-palms, hinted-at whispers that the Feds may wish to get the $ 1.6B used-to-be-Surrey-LRT money spent before the 2019 Federal election.

In a recent interview, Ken Hardie, the Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, said federal funding for transit projects can be used for whatever regional mayors decide is a priority.

With thanks to Ian Bailey in the Globe and Mail.

Province:  looking at you, Mayor’s Council.  Um, about that extra billion-three . . . 

B.C. premier John Horgan has said the province will support whatever plan the Mayors’ Council puts forward, but won’t be providing any additional money. . . .

“It would certainly not fit into our new capital plan,” said Horgan.

“The new mayors from around the region will get together and we are looking forward to hearing from them, but certainly we and the federal government have funded the plan put forward by the last council and the council before them.”

With thanks to Richard Zussman in GlobalNews.ca

The Mayors Council:   

Speaking of the dog that caught the bus, or someone catching a tiger by the tail — maybe we should switch the analogy to “hornet’s nest”.

Jonathan Coté, New Westminster:

“I definitely think the City of Surrey is going to have to come to the table to talk about how the region could be reimbursed for costs that have been made so far on the light-rail project,” Jonathan Coté, the mayor of New Westminster, said in an interview this week.

“I definitely think the City of Surrey should be responsible for the costs.” . . . 

Mr. Coté said the LRT cannot be forced on Surrey if voters, by electing Mr. McCallum and his team, have signalled they do not want it.

With thanks to Ian Bailey in the Globe and Mail

Malcolm Brodie, Richmond

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said Monday he could not see himself supporting a request from Surrey for another billion dollars for a SkyTrain line to Langley, the easternmost suburb of Metro Vancouver, with regional taxpayers having to pay for likely a third of it.

He said if Mr. McCallum cancels the LRT lines, there will be many others in the region lined up to take the money for their projects.

With thanks to Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail.

“The first thing that’ll have to be done is they will need to find the extra money to pay for it. Surrey will be asking for a premium type of service, and they will have to pay the increment or find the money,” said Brodie. “I don’t think there will be regional sources for that money.”

With thanks to Kenneth Chan at the Daily Hive:  Urbanized

Linda Buchanan, City of North Vancouver

. . . would not support giving Surrey the additional money for a SkyTrain Line.

“I don’t want to spend more in a region that’s already got $1.65-billion. There’s no more money going around,” she said. “If he wants to give that up, yes, I would like it to come to the North Shore.”

With thanks to Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail.

Richard Stewart, Coquitlam

“I don’t think it’s a case of just switching technologies,” from light rail to SkyTrain in Surrey, Stewart said. “It will be interesting to see the argument put forward.

“I worry though that if someone succeeds in getting the current work cancelled, it could result in another decade of work to get SkyTrain for Surrey.

“It took a decade to get the current plan.”

. . . “I would caution (Surrey) not to cancel the project, because that is what they would be doing.”

With thanks to Gordon McIntyre in Postmedia outlet the Vancouver Sun

Kennedy Stewart, Vancouver

After voicing hearty support for Mr. McCallum’s position on Monday, Mr. Stewart added a caveat Tuesday: “At the same time, we cannot put in jeopardy any infrastructure dollars that have already been committed, including funds earmarked for the Broadway Subway line,” he said in a statement issued to The Globe and Mail.

With thanks to Ian Bailey in the Globe and Mail.

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  1. The LRT line between Newton, Surrey Central and Guildford is funded as part of Phase 2 of the Mayor’s Plan to a sum of $1.65 billion. Phase 3 of the Mayor’s Plan projects the cost of a LRT line to Langley at $1.9 billion. Phase 3 is not funded yet. In total that is $3.55 billion of earmarked spending for LRT in Surrey. The SkyTrain alternative to Langley is estimated to be $2.9 billion. If saner minds prevail, there should be plenty of money to build SkyTrain to Langley in two phases with somewhere in Fleetwood being the interim terminus between phases. The stretch from Fleetwood to Langley would have to wait for Phase 3 of the Mayor’s Plan to be funded.

    McCallum’s insistence that the whole thing can be built at grade for $1.65 billion is based on no evidence and is an unnecessary distraction. Time and money can be spent to try and build a very stripped down version of the system, but it likely will still come in way over $1.65 billion and not resemble anything that anyone wants or considers desirable. Its just waste of time. Admit the higher cost to do it properly and build it in two phases.

    Of course, in all this Newton and Guildford get no rail. One might think that in the delta between $3.55 billion and $2.9 billion that there should be money available to enhance the 96 B-line to a significant degree. That will have to make do as there will be no prospect for rail to Newton for another generation. It’s back to the end of the funding line to wait your turn again after this. That is of course if saner minds prevail in all of this. If they don’t it could be back to the end of the line with nothing to show for it.

    1. “Of course, in all this Newton and Guildford get no rail. ”

      Which of course is where the highest densities are now and are planned to be. But sure a skytrain through single family suburbs and across farm land is a good idea.

      1. Actually if you modified and improved the 96 to run as a two way loop via King George, 104th, 152nd and 72nd you’d have a decent high frequency service tying larger parts of Surrey closer to SkyTrain with Newton, Surrey Central, Guildford, and 152nd St Stn all well connected. The planned upgrade of the 319 to a B-line and a B-line running from Newton to White Rock would give a fairly good high frequency network. At some point there would need to be rail rapid transit down to Newton and South Surrey. It would appear voters in Surrey want this to happen later than sooner. Too bad as there is project on the books now ready to roll, but its not what people want unfortunately. McCallum promised SkyTrain to Newton, but this has never been studied or ever vetted as an option. Guildford will still be reasonably close to SkyTrain and could access to either Surrey Central of 152 St Stn. The 152 St Stn would actually be a bit closer than Surrey Central is. A revised 96 B-line would provide good service to both options.

  2. Agreed.

    For some reason people tend to forget that rapid transit lines are scalable and can be extended in future.
    The same can be said of designing for “future stations” to keep initial costs low, as was done for the Millennium Line and the Canada Line.

  3. This all seems like a dogs breakfast now so do both the ‘L’ line and the Langley extension in BRT (bus rapid transit). Would it all cost the same as just one of these projects? You get almost the same service as LRT for both areas. It’ll still be an improvement for yrs to come and when needed you can more easily/cheaply upgrade the Langley extension to Skytrain. The ‘L’ line could stay as-is or be changed later if need be to LRT, or Skytrain or some other technology.

  4. Did someone study the utter traffic mess the new at-surface LRT lines created in Edmonton with the NAIT line and the older LRT line near UofA ?

    It is paramount that the new train goes BELOW GROUND at key intersections to not block traffic like we see in Edmonton.

    Even Calgary is now thinking to put LRT downtown underground as it so disruptive and ugly on 7th Ave !

    Think 3D (above, at or below grade) and not just 1D.

    The Surrey mayor and council – elected with a SIZABLE MAJORITY – is onto something here, are they not ?

    Also; why switch system in Surrey if one travels from Langley to NewWest or downtown ? As such, not using SkyTrain was possibly a major oversight. Hopefully we will not repeat this mistake on the UBC line if it ever gets built past Arbutus.

    1. Yes, Thomas, SkyTrain guideways are soooo beautiful.

      Ten years of planning among Surrey council, engineering/planning/traffic staff, The Mayors Council and TransLink and nobody thought to ever look at any other LRT/tram systems around the world – all 200 of them. You keep trotting out Edmonton – maybe they just got it wrong on one line. Meanwhile SkyTrain systems are being ripped out or falling into neglect elsewhere.

      McCallum could be called the new Mayor of Langley for proposing a system that will make it easy for Langley residents to skip Surrey for jobs in Vancouver. I was critical of Kennedy Stewart for supporting McCallum’s tantrum but it’s clearly in Vancouver’s interest that Surrey fail to foster their own downtown and capture jobs.

      1. How many AT GRADE crossings will this new LRT have ? ie how much inconvenience is being created for bus or car users ?

        Is it wise to switch systems i.e. if one goes from Langley to Vancouver one has to switch trains in Surrey ?

        How much slower is LRT vs SkyTrain ? ie is it basically like a bus, on rails ? Just as slow and clogged in traffic like 99 B-Line on Broadway ?

        We need SPEED on rail based systems AND tunnels or bridges on major intersections. is this the case here between Langley and Surrey ?

        1. What we need is better land-use planning so speed isn’t as critical. Metro Vancouver remains far too sprawly and extending SkyTrain to Langley will only make it worse. Yes it is wise to switch systems for people going from Langley to Vancouver. That is, if you want to foster jobs in Surrey-Langley instead of having the majority think it’s just peachy to live in the hinterlands and work in Vancouver. We should never encourage that by over-building at huge cost and losses that taxpayers have to pick up.

          By your logic it would be a wise investment to extend SkyTrain to Hope.

          1. Hope is far too sparsely populated. But maybe to Abbotsford and eventually Chilliwack !!

            SPEED MATTERS.

            Impact on other traffic participants, i.e. pedestrians, bikers, cars and trucks matters too ! And that is where a lot of LRT systems FAIL. Its just as slow as the bus, and more expensive to buy and operate. Streetcars make no sense to me AT ALL !

          2. But they do make sense in most of the 200 cities that have them.

            It’s not the speed that matters, it’s the duration of the trip. If SkyTrain goes twice as fast but most people travel twice as far you’ve gained absolutely nothing at four times the cost.

            A networked system adds even more resilience and choice. A gangling sprawly radiating SkyTrain reaching far beyond the ridership needed to justify it is just a waste of tax dollars. If you want more sprawl go for SkyTrain to the hinterlands. If you want great mixed use cities where your daily needs are quickly reached by any means, then don’t.

  5. First, let us be honest with ourselves folks. I have crunched some numbers. The change in scope for the Surrey to Langley Skytrain Expo Line Extension Project (The SLS), from 2 stages into a single stage project was because of cost and nothing else. The cost to go 7 km to Fleetwood was around $1.69 Billion to $1.72 Billion, exceeding the $1.63 Billion budget. This is why they combined the 2 stages into a single stage project. The project to Fleetwood died months ago.

    According to the second stage of Translink’s 10 year funding plan and the Rapid Transit Funding Agreement for the Surrey LRT Line, roughly $165 Million of that $1.63 Billion was coming from some past but mostly future tax and fee revenues (2018-2028 period). Translink’s local fuel taxes, development charges, parking fees, property tax increases as well as targeted amounts of Translink’s own passenger revenues were to help fund roughly 8.6% of the $7.3 Billion Second Stage of the 10 year funding plan, roughly $627.8 Million in total. This plan included the Broadway Millennium Line Extension to Arbutus, the Surrey LRT Line and many, many other smaller capital programs.

    So far, the Translink funding for the Broadway extension is unaffected (no surprise). However, because of the pandemic, Translink is short $78.8 Million in planned revenues from 2019 and 2020 (their figures not mine), 2021 is not done yet and it may take years for Translink revenues to return to pre-pandemic levels. So it’s not $1.63 Billion in existing rapid transit funding, its actually around $1.55 Billion and dropping. If you don’t want to touch rapid transit funding, no less than $78.8 million must be taken out of the remaining $2.88 Billion in capital funding for the many other projects of the second stage of Translink’s 10 year capital funding plan.

    My point, turning the Surrey to Langley Skytrain extension plan from a 2 stage plan to single stage plan was no gift to the public, the finances around the original 2 stage funding plan for the extension, quietly died. The massive increase in construction costs and the loss of Translink revenue from the pandemic, killed it.

    Not only is a new business case needed but a whole new funding plan as well and it’s going to take 2 to 3 years to redo this process. So let’s be honest, currently, there isn’t enough funding for this $3.95 Billion extension. No business case, no funding plan, Translink isn’t even involved in the project management anymore, this is now a completely provincially run project. Translink may not be capable of being a full financial partner in this project or any other large capital project for some time, due to its current budget issues.

    You have a PROMISE of $1.3 Billion but no specific formal funding agreement from the federal government as of yet (you guys are so lucky the Conservatives didn’t get elected).

    The province of BC is now completely running the Surrey to Langley Extension. The project is $3.95 Billion and they could be having to kick in the entire remaining, $2.65 Billion, assuming there are no other cost increases in the coming months and the Liberals make good on their pre election funding promise. This is not a good thing for the Surrey Extension.

    The dark cloud on the horizon is beginning to show itself. According to the last information I had, Translink had to begin serious final planning and engineering on the second stage of the Broadway Millennium Line extension from Arbutus to UBC by 2024, if construction was to begin in 2026.

    Again I crunched the numbers, as of today (in 2021 dollars), I estimate this extension project to cost between, $4.98 to $5.12 Billion for the planned 7.3 km long tunnel and above grade structure into UBC, that’s right now, 2021. The actual date of final bidding and procurement will determine its actual final cost, when that is complete the final total will be known.

    Again, I predict the cost of the Broadway Millennium Line extension from Arbutus to UBC to be between, $4.98 and $5.12 Billion and the cost is growing between $158 to $164 Million every year due to the current estimate of inflation. That cost figure range I just gave you doesn’t include inflationary costs of construction materials, which is usually considerably higher than the basic inflation rate. Structural concrete prices increases alone, could add anywhere from $36 Million to $55 Million per year on top of just the basic inflation.

    With the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in control and probably having to kick in most if not all of the remaining $2.65 Billion for the Skytrain to Langley as well as the coming political pressure to fund the UBC extension, assuming they again have to pick up almost 2/3 of that project in 2024, (to finish it around 2031), this leaves a total cost for the UBC project in 2024, to be around $5.62 Billion. Which means, a roughly 2/3 funding portion of $3.77 Billion for the BC government.

    In a fight for just British Columbia’s portion of 2 Skytrain line extensions, whether they pay $2.65 Billion for the Langley project or wait and fund $3.77 Billion for UBC extension, both will not be funded at the same time. I believe Langley will loose out in this choice. Unless, something drastically changes soon, the current Langley Skytrain extension project in it’s present form is dying and my be put off, well into the next decade.

    Even when experts told people during your last civic election he was dead wrong, Langley’s current Mayor said he could build this entire Skytrain project to Langley for just $1.63 Billion! Fun times! I warned everybody then, kill the LRT line, you are going to get nothing until the 2030’s.

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