Abbotsford News – Too soon to pick SkyTrain over light rail: Watts

Too soon to pick SkyTrain over light rail: Watts

* Light rail delivers more bang for the buck

By Jeff Nagel – BC Local News

Published: October 04, 2010 5:00 PM

Updated: October 04, 2010 5:45 PM

Premier Gordon Campbell pledged to deliver “SkyTrain to Langley” on Friday but Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says the option of using at-grade light rail technology should not be ruled out.

“I’d be surprised if he’s excluding any technology,” Watts said, adding she took the reference as intended to mean a rapid transit line will run to Langley, with the exact system and route to be determined by TransLink, Surrey and Langley.

Officials in the Premier’s Office, however, confirmed Campbell did intend to specify SkyTrain when he addressed the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

“The community prefers light rail for a number of reasons,” Watts said. “You can have double the tracks for the same price as SkyTrain.”

Surrey’s land mass is almost as large as Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond combined, she said, and SkyTrain technology that might work well in those cities is less suited to the Surrey-Langley extension.

“When you’re looking at putting rapid transit across those kinds of kilometres, you need to be looking at all options,” Watts said.

TransLink will soon launch a new round of public consultations on the routes and technologies for Surrey-area rapid transit extensions.

Surrey council is also set to visit Portland, Oregon this month to study that city’s light-rail system.

In January, 2008, Campbell unveiled the Provincial Transit Plan, which indicated a rapid transit extension to Guildford and then southeast to roughly 168 Street and Fraser Highway, after which a RapidBus system would run to Langley City.

Campbell’s UBCM speech pledging SkyTrain to Langley and then RapidBus to Chilliwack is being taken as a commitment to take rapid transit further than previously discussed.

“I was surprised to hear SkyTrain was going to come to Langley City,” said Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender and the chair of the TransLink mayors’ council.

“It reflects our vision for our downtown and the fact we’ve already increased density,” he said.

But Fassbender cautioned there’s much work to be done examining the rapid transit options and stressed TransLink and the mayors who control funding must consider the broad needs of the entire region.

The province has spelled out no timeline, cost estimate or method of paying for the extension, except to indicate Partnerships BC will lead work to cost it out and develop a plan.

“There are no details of how to pay for it,” NDP transportation critic Harry Bains said. “And the key issue here is funding.”

The province and mayors’ council last month agreed to redouble efforts to determine what new taxes or revenue sources will fund TransLink expansion, particularly the money needed to start construction of the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam next year.

“There’s a third SeaBus sitting rusting right now because they don’t have the operating money,” Bains said, adding the province’s promises are meaningless without reliable long-term funding.

The 2008 pledge also committed to a RapidBus network by 2020 with bus rapid transit lines running down King George Highway to White Rock, from South Surrey through Delta to the Canada Line in Richmond, from Lougheed Station in Burnaby across the Port Mann Bridge to north Langley and then over the Golden Ears Bridge to Maple Ridge and then on to Coquitlam.

The premier’s now-stated preference for SkyTrain irks light rail advocates, who say it would preclude the use of the existing rail tracks on the old interurban corridor, which they say could launch light rail service at a modest cost.

“Promising SkyTrain to Langley is not realistic,” said Rail For the Valley spokesman John Vissers. “Does anybody in the Fraser Valley believe that’s going to happen in their lifetime?”

He said elevated or underground SkyTrain is “monolithic” with stations that are entrenched, while at-grade light rail stops are easy to create anywhere and can even be relocated from one spot to a different one if ridership patterns change.

Vissers said he’s disappointed the premier hasn’t looked more closely at the group’s proposal to restart a modern light rail system on the existing tracks, which he argues would attract more riders.

“We’ve heard about SkyTrain and we’ve heard about rapid buses and neither of those are the future that people in the Fraser Valley have been looking for.”

The premier’s speech also committed to a line along Broadway to UBC but used the words “rapid transit” not SkyTrain, leaving open the potential for light rail or bus rapid transit there.

via Abbotsford News – Too soon to pick SkyTrain over light rail: Watts.

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