OPINION: Surrey Needs LRT Immediately And Only Has Three Days Left To Make It Happen

Surrey is at a major crossroad. As we approach the final days of the municipal election which proverbial route will the city take? A route welcoming the 21st century adding an efficient mode of mass transit to an underserved network? Or will it regress into a 20th century era autodom mired in growing traffic jams? The official city slogan is “The future lives here” time to live up to it.

By Harpinder Sandhu – Special to DESIBUZZCanada

In this year’s municipal election, the citizens of Surrey have a choice to elect candidates envisioning a range of different futures for the city. What the citizens do not have is a choice between two different rapid transit lines. Following almost ten years of lobbying, studying and planning efforts the option selected was Light Rail Transit not Skytrain. The funding was approved by the entire Mayor’s Council, Translink, the Provincial Government and the Federal Government. The alignment of all these levels of public authority for massive infrastructure happen very rarely.

In April 2015, I wrote an article for the Surrey Now Leader encouraging people to vote in favour of the transit referendum. I was vehemently opposed to the additional 0.5% sales tax but incredibly frustrated that Surrey always received far less funding than neighboring cities.  For the first time in nearly 25 years of being ignored by senior governments to expand rapid transit Surrey has the opportunity to mobilize $1.65 Billion. Better yet, a greater percentage is now funded by senior governments saving our citizens valuable tax dollars.

Former mayor Dianne Watts created a strategic vision for LRT as the new mode of transportation moving people within the city limits quickly and efficiently. The major challenge was to cover multiple communities spread out over a vast geographic area. The answer to this problem was LRT because it was capable of dispersing development at medium densities. Unlike Skytrain which encouraged high-rise towers clustered around fewer and further apart stations; LRT improves the streetscape because the entire route would be walkable with more stations situated closely.

Based on the past federal census, Surrey’s population growth rate is nearly double that of Vancouver. Over the next few decades, it will surpass it as the most populous city in BC. The approved Phase I line will immediately connect two of these fast growing communities Newton and Guildford to the emerging hub in the downtown core. LRT is not only a major investment for transit but also a major private investment draw for companies wanting to move their headquarters to this area as working people are pushed to more affordable areas.

We can learn some valuable lessons from the disastrous transit outcome of Brampton, Ontario. In 2015, Brampton city council voted 6-5 to reject a similar light rail project that was slated to be built. Fast forward three years later the city still did not have any additional transit expansion in place. In July 2018, Brampton city council approved spending an additional $4.4 million on studying other transit options. The result is years of more delay without a plan, ballooning cost estimates, more expensive studies and little to show for it all.

A major role of a municipal politician is to effectively articulate complex problems and provide clear solutions to move the city forward. Instead, the citizens have become subjected to political games between a former mayor and new mayoral candidates unable to paint a clear vision for the future. The greater fear is a delay or cancellation of LRT will result in citizens becoming pawns during next year’s federal election campaigns begging for more funds to complete an expensive Skytrain.

Surrey is at a major crossroad. As we approach the final days of the municipal election which proverbial route will the city take? A route welcoming the 21st century adding an efficient mode of mass transit to an underserved network? Or will it regress into a 20th century era autodom mired in growing traffic jams? The official city slogan is “The future lives here” time to live up to it.

Harpinder Sandhu is a Surrey Resident/VP of CUPE 1767/Urban Geographer.

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