A rendering of what a light rail line might look like running down the centre of King George Boulevard near 96 Avenue in Surrey.

Surrey rapid transit options weighed

Councillors favour full $2.1B light rail/BRT network

A hybrid light rail/Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system linking downtown Surrey to Guildford, Langley and White Rock would cost an estimated $2.1 billion – making it the most expensive of 10 options tabled for Surrey-area rapid transit expansion.

But at least two Surrey councillors say it’s also the best choice they see, despite an evaluation by TransLink that found a SkyTrain extension or BRT-only options could perform as well or better on some fronts.

Coun. Linda Hepner said she “whole-heartedly supports” the at-grade light rail option dubbed LRT1.

It features three light rail arms radiating from City Centre to Guildford, to Langley City via Fraser Highway and to Newton, with a BRT spur running south to White Rock via King George Boulevard and 152 Street in South Surrey.

Bus Rapid Transit would run like light rail in its own guideway in the middle of the road but using buses at much less cost, with potential to eventually convert to light rail.

“Including it all the way to the Langleys would significantly improve the chances of people actually getting out of their vehicles,” Hepner said.

Coun. Marvin Hunt said the LRT1 option goes the farthest to cover the whole city, adding 22 new stations.

“That’s what I want to see,” he said. “The SkyTrain lines are so short they’re to the point of being useless.”

Most of the other BRT/LRT options involve replacing some or all of the light rail segments with cheaper BRT or truncating major sections. BRT2, rated the most cost-effective option at $650 million, would sacrifice the southern link from Newton to White Rock, while LRT4 would scrap both the southern link and the Fraser Highway line to Langley City, instead leaving just a light rail inverted “L” running from Newton to Guildford.

SkyTrain options include a single $1.95-billion line to Langley City (RRT1), a single $900-million line south to Newton (RRT3) or the Newton SkyTrain extension plus BRT legs to Langley and Guildford (RRT2) for $1.4 billion.

TransLink is asking for public feedback on its findings. View all the routes and rankings at http://www.translink.ca/en/Be-Part-of-the-Plan/Public-Consultation/Surrey-Rapid-Transit-Study.

Not included is the old Interurban corridor, which swooshes south and then east in a crescent from Scott Road Station through Newton, Sullivan and Cloverdale. Planners say it wouldn’t serve the most populous parts of Surrey in the future and would require much more costly widening than the road corridors.

Hunt said the planned use of the Fraser Highway corridor straight to Langley is flawed because it misses the Cloverdale downtown.

“What we’re doing is delivering LRT to Langley, not Cloverdale,” he said.

Any Fraser Highway line should travel down to 64 Avenue in Cloverdale and continue directly east, he said, allowing better connection to the Cloverdale downtown, possibly via a planned local tram there.

TransLink planners defend their Fraser Highway alignment, saying it meshes better with projections Clayton will gain much more population over the long term than Cloverdale.

Likewise, they say the Newton-South Surrey leg through the floodplain is a long section that adds $300 million in capital costs but doesn’t attract as many additional riders as investments elsewhere.

The expansive and expensive LRT1 option rates worst on TransLink’s assessment for financial considerations (due to its higher operating costs versus anticipated ridership compared to driverless SkyTrain) and the environment (more carbon emissions compared to electric SkyTrain; more farmland/green space impacted).

The LRT1 option beat SkyTrain on urban development by encouraging denser development and on social and community impacts (better community connections, user security).

LRT1, BRT1 (the all-BRT equivalent) and the SkyTrain to Langley options all tie as the best options on actual transportation.

But that takes in not just transit performance but also disruption to road users. Elevated SkyTrain’s milder impact on other drivers, including goods haulers, improves its transport score.

The at-grade LRT or BRT options would reduce the road space from four lanes to two on 104 Avenue to Guildford and on 152 Street from King George to 16 Avenue.

Many minor intersections where cars can now cross a major artery would switch to right-turn-only access to ensure light rail trains or BRT buses can speed along without traffic interference. They’d also get signal priority at traffic lights and some mid-block left turn bays may be eliminated.

Hepner, Hunt and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts all said they oppose an elevated SkyTrain expansion, saying it would be geared to moving people to downtown Vancouver, rather than around Surrey.

Hepner said at-grade rail or bus would foster more commercial development because riders would be at eye level with shops and destinations.

It’s critical to connect as many Surrey town centres as possible, said Coun. Barinder Rasode.

“You can’t just focus on three or two points in the community,” she said. “We have to connect the dots a bit more.”

TransLink infrastructure planning manager Jeff Busby said there are other tradeoffs in rejecting SkyTrain, because of its superior ability to move larger numbers of users faster.

TransLink hasn’t taken a position on which option is best.

That will ultimately be a political decision involving the provincial government, the TransLink board and affected cities.

And which one prevails could come down to how much cash is available.

Busby said the different configurations were picked to show what can be achieved at different price points.

The full three-arm network to both Langley and White Rock can be built for $950 million – less than half the cost – if it’s done only using BRT.

A rapid transit station would be within 800 metres of 245,000 more people and 134,000 more jobs (as of 2041) if the full network (LRT1, BRT1) is built out, compared to 99,000 people and 57,000 jobs for the SkyTrain leg to Langley and 71,000 people and 41,000 jobs for the King George SkyTrain leg to Newton.

Don’t expect anything to be built tomorrow.

The most optimistic scenario would see the Surrey rapid transit network finished by the end of this decade, assuming area mayors and the province agree on how to raise much more money for TransLink.

Nathan Pachal, of the transit advocacy group South Fraser On Trax, said he thinks the evaluations and costs signal a TransLink preference for BRT.

“I think for the future it really should be light rail, because that’s where we’ll be headed,” he said.

 

‘LRT1’ design concept

 

PUBLIC WORKSHOPS

Thursday June 2 – SFU Surrey rooms 5100 and 5140. 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Thursday, June 9 – Guildford Sheraton 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Tuesday, June 14 – Newton Seniors Hall, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

 

TRAVEL TIME ESTIMATES

Langley Centre-Surrey Centre

SkyTrain: 21 minutes

Light Rail: 29 minutes

BRT: 30 minutes

 

Newton to Surrey Centre

SkyTrain: 10 minutes

Light Rail: 14 minutes

BRT: 15 minutes

 

White Rock to Surrey Centre

BRT/Light Rail: 39 minutes

BRT only: 38 minutes

Bus: 54 minutes (46 with major bus improvements)

 

Guildford to Surrey Centre

Light Rail: 9 minutes

BRT: 10 minutes

Bus: 17 minutes (13 with major bus improvements)