A definitive yes vote in the Metro Vancouver transit referendum is critical to Surrey, where up to 350,000 new residents are expected in the next 30 years, Cloverdale business leaders were told at a forum last week at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino.
If the city hasn’t received its fair share of transit and transportation funding in the past, the proposed congestion tax is a chance to change that.
“There’s huge benefits for Surrey in this,” said Elizabeth Model, CEO of the Surrey Downtown BIA, which has joined the Yes coalition.
The March 19 forum highlighted the benefits of the Metro Mayors’ Council Transportation and Transit Plan, and coincided with the launch of the mail-in referendum.
Metro Vancouver voters are being asked to support a new, 0.5 per cent Congestion Improvement Tax that would be dedicated to the Mayors’ Council transportation and transit plan. The additional sales tax will fund billions of dollars worth of upgrades.
“We get approximately 45 per cent of the $7.5 billion plan,” she said. “There’s a huge impact on our economy.”
Surrey would benefit from about $3.5 billion in new infrastructure and transit upgrades, from more buses and B-lines, road upgrades and an LRT – the “big ticket item” for Surrey, the city’s transportation planning manager, Philip Bellefontaine, said.
“There is a criticism that areas such as Burnaby and Vancouver get all the improvements,” Bellefontaine said.
Bus service in Surrey, for instance, which is measured in terms of service hours, is roughly half of the regional average.
The referendum is an opportunity to “close that inequity gap,” he said.
An estimated 1 million people will be moving into the region over the next 30 years.
“Of those, 350,000 will be coming to Surrey,” Bellefontaine said, adding the city is predicting another 25,000 new jobs.
“For that to happen in a responsible way, a sustainable way, it’s important we have a transportation system in place to allow that to happen,” he said.
Light rail is the “big ticket item” on the transit network upgrade for Surrey, vastly reducing travel times between town centres.
Delivery of LRT on the 104 Ave./King George Highway (or L-Line) would be in seven years, but the Fraser Highway line would be completed in 12 years, prompting one audience member to criticize the plan as “short sighted.”
Jeff Richards said “all the new residential growth is in South Surrey and Cloverdale – areas that he said won’t see improvements for eight to 12 years.
“My feeling on this, is it’s not a well thought-out plan,” he said.
“I don’t think I’m going to vote yes.”
The forum was a joint presentation of the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce and the Surrey Board of Trade.
Both organizations support the proposed congestion tax.
Cloverdale Chamber president John Gibeau said the tax is an “unobtrusive way to finance the transit expansion,” he said.
Capital projects would include a new Pattullo Bridge and improvements to arterial roadways that are jointly paid for by TransLink and Surrey, including 64 Avenue, which is a high priority.
The plan assumes seniors levels of government would contribute two-thirds of the costs for capital projects.
“Why on earth, at this stage of the game, is that not front and centre?” wondered Allen Aubert. “It’s very unsatisfactory from a business perspective.”
Not sure how he will vote, Aubert admitted the transit expansion and transportation improvements must go ahead. “I am still totally in favour of doing this,” he said. “It would be crazy not to.”
The yes side says it has broad local support, including the Surrey Board of Trade, Business Improvement Associations, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and community associations.
The Cloverdale Community Association, however, has opted to stay neutral, president Mike Bola said.