With the business case officially approved for the 10.5-kilometre Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail line, TransLink has kicked off the procurement phase of the project.
But the transit authority doesn’t just want a construction company — they want someone who can operate the line in the early years.
“The scope is asking that not only will we have a contractor that knows how to build this, but knows how to operate this,” Stephan Mehr, project director for the SNG line, told reporters during a technical briefing at Surrey City Hall on Wednesday. “This is really important to us, we’re going to be very scrupulous in terms of who wants to build this… We’ve asked specifically for their best experience in delivering LRT beginning to end. It’s not just about building it and walking away.”
Mehr said for the next eight weeks TransLink is inviting bidders “that will come from around the world, and likely in groups” to respond to its RFQ (Request for Qualifications).
After that, three groups will be shortlisted, and then the RFP (Request for Proposals) will launch that will entail “a technical and a price proposal for the project,” which is slated to start in early 2019. The contract will be for 11 years, according to the BC Bid posting, including four years of design and construction, and seven more years for extended warranty and maintenance. Eventually, TransLink would take over operation of the line.
The scope of the project includes not only the at-grade rail, but the streetscape, property line, roadworks, as well as cycling and pedestrian ways, among other things.
TransLink says construction is slated to begin in 2020, and the line should be operational by 2024.
“By 2041, we expect more than 400,000 people to move to communities south of the Fraser,” said Mehr.
“LRT will transform Surrey. It will encourage more livable neighbourhoods and support growing job centres. Three-quarters of transit trips start in Surrey and end in Surrey. This shows people living there want to be able to work and play close to home. LRT will make that type of lifestyle easier to attain in Surrey, while preparing the city for decades of growth.”
Mehr told reporters that the 96 B-Line that the LRT will replace is the fastest growing bus route in Surrey and sees as estimated five million boardings per year and that “we’re going to run out of capacity very quickly and that’s why we need to get LRT running.”
“When we introduce LRT, we will be able to maintain the travel time between Newton and Guildford to 27 minutes,” he said, noting there are 11 stops planned, including two exchanges.
At peak times, Mehr said Surrey’s SNG light rail line is estimated to see 2,000 passengers per hour in either direction, with five-minute frequency.
“This will definitely increase capacity. We will more than double the capacity of the B-Line that it’s going to replace and we have the ability over time to even increase that.”
Mehr said TransLink estimates that when the line opens in 2024, it will see 46,000 passengers per day, rising to an estimated 77,000 passengers per day by 2045.
Meantime, the transit authority says it’s setting up a “community relations program” and community information office as a point of contact for businesses and residents along the corridor.
“And we are starting to go further into our business liaison program so we can help manage construction impacts for business,” said Mehr. “That was clearly voiced during our open houses. We realized a key element to the construction process is making sure we understand and are responsive to keep them going during construction.”
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan held a press conference in Surrey to “officially launch” both the SNG light rail line in Surrey and Vancouver’s Broadway project.
Trudeau said the federal government and the province combined are investing $3 billion in both Surrey’s LRT project and Vancouver’s Broadway subway project.
The feds will contribute $1.37 billion to the two projects, the province will kick in $1.82 billion and Translink, the City of Vancouver and the City of Surrey will contribute $1.23 billion.
“The cheques are in the mail,” said Horgan.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner also spoke at the press conference in Surrey’s City Centre was, saying the announcement was a “major win” for the region.
“Mic drop,” Hepner said at the end of her remarks. “It’s a great day in Surrey.”
She said today was about a “bilateral agreement being finalized.”
Hepner, Trudeau and Horgan all agreed that this plan, which had been 10 years in the making, wasn’t supported by previous governments and that infrastructure simply wasn’t keeping up in Surrey and Vancouver.
“It was going nowhere,” she said of the plan.
Hepner thanked Horgan and Trudeau for “being the delivery agents” of the funding.
— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) September 4, 2018
Some political candidates for the Oct. 20 civic election, such as former mayor Doug McCallum, have said that if elected they will transfer the provincial and federal dollars to SkyTrain instead of LRT.
But as far as TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond is concerned, the “train has left the station” on that and he said he doesn’t think incoming politicians will be able to change the technology on Surrey’s SNG line this late in the game.
“I think it’s pretty locked in,” said Desmond. “This is what the Mayors’ Council has signed off on, the federal and provincial government are now ready, willing and able and fully committed.”
Hepner – who pledged Surrey residents would be riding light rail by 2018 during the 2014 election – agreed.
“No he can’t. All of this funding goes to the SNG line. So he can probably talk about what happens down Fraser Highway…. but is he going to change today? No he isn’t, no he can’t, no he won’t.”
Meanwhile, LRT opponents from the broader community are not going away.
The SkyTrain for Surrey group said in a release Wednesday that is is “disappointed by decision-makers at all levels of government, who have announced their intent to continue” despite objections from many locals.
The group, headed by Daryl Dela Cruz, stands firm in its crusade to have the project halted, saying SkyTrain in a superior technology and that it won’t increase transit use in Surrey, that it will be slow and that it will cost more, per kilometre, than the SkyTrain Evergreen Line.
At Surrey City Hall for the technical briefing on Wednesday, TransLink’s vice-president of infrastructure management and engineering Sany Zein was asked why the prices for the Surrey LRT line was $157 million a kilometre, when the Evergreen Line completed two years ago was done for $130 million a kilometre.
Zein cited inflation.
“Every project gets its own updated and refreshed cost estimates,” said Zein.
“We’ve been facing inflation pressures on all major infrastructure projects,” he added, noting “significant pressure” when it comes to property costs, some of which have almost doubled since the Evergreen Line was constructed.
Labour pressures have played into the cost estimates as well.
“The numbers reflect the very latest information we have,” Zein said,” which also “assume inflation in the coming years we are delivering this project.”