Metro Vancouver mayors suspend Surrey LRT, vote to study SkyTrain
Metro Vancouver mayors voted to suspend construction on Surrey’s LRT line and take steps towards a SkyTrain to Langley at a tense meeting Thursday.
But even as Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum was declaring victory, it was clear from the discussion around the Mayors’ Council that many were uncomfortable making any decision without a business plan, hard numbers or consultation.
“I think this approach is setting a dangerous precedent,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, concerned that one city could chart its own path to change a regional plan.
“I’m open to the idea of making a change and we need a full analysis of that change,” Brodie said.
Maria Harris of Electoral Area A, which includes the University of British Columbia, was more blunt: “The quickest way forward is not to throw a bomb into this. But that bomb has been cast.”
An analysis of the costs and the route of a SkyTrain from King George Station to downtown Langley along the Fraser Highway could only rest on work that had been done years before – not enough to confidently predict a cost, a route or a timeline, officials said.
“What became clear is that there are a lot of questions and this is a significant change of direction and we don’t have a lot of answers yet,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote.
Facing stronger opposition from some mayors, McCallum suggested doing a weighted vote – a procedure that counts the mayor’s votes in proportion to population. Such a move would give McCallum and ally Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart virtual certainty anything they proposed would pass.
But it didn’t come to that – with mayors voicing their opposition, but ultimately agreeing to respect McCallum’s push to bring in one of his signature campaign promises: scrapping the $1.65 billion LRT and replace it with what he says is a similar-priced SkyTrain.
Other estimates from TransLink have placed the line at over $1 billion more in cost. McCallum suggested at the meeting that next year’s federal election would help him.
When asked by a reporter whether he planned to use Surrey votes to get federal parties to promise cash, he said, “It’s not part of our strategy, but I think our timing’s good, put it that way.”
North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan pointed out that the $77 million TransLink counted had been spent on the LRT could have made a big impact on her region.
“That $50m or $70m would have paid for three rapid buses in North Vancouver that would reduce the congestion that we’re seeing,” she said.
Stewart claimed his own victory in that the council had agreed to study a SkyTrain extension to UBC. He reiterated his support for McCallum’s SkyTrain push.
“I’ll support this and I do think the people of Surrey have spoken and their voice is heard through Mr. McCallum. Democratic principles trump past work,” he said.
A report on options for the SkyTrain is expected at the next Mayors' Council meeting in about three weeks.