There is a fair amount of misinformation being propagated by some transit advocates, new development marketing teams and politicians around the proposed Surrey/Langley Skytrain extension. This can be quite frustrating for those looking for information on future plans. However, I’m especially disappointed at the developers suggesting there is some sort of certainty around the Skytrain route, stations and/or construction timeline. There isn’t. If you see or hear of marketing that refers to Skytrain, please use caution.
Skytrain update: the next 15 months
Jeff Busby from Translink presented to council last Monday to let council know what’s actually going on with the proposed Skytrain route from King George to Langley City Centre. While preliminary findings regarding costing and design will be presented to the Mayors Council this summer, it will take approximately 15 months to get to senior government approvals, as all LRT-based planning was halted and re-started for Skytrain. Over the next 15 months, Translink will be looking at full cost details, designs, ridership forecasts, engagement with the community, environmental reviews, procurement strategies, and government approvals. That’s it. That’s all the information we have now. Currently there is no cost analysis beyond the original $2.9 billion estimate, no designs, no approved routes or station sites.
An alternative route?
Following Mr. Busby’s presentation, Councillor Kim Richter brought up a memo from Township staff regarding an alternative route that would be “better” for the Township of Langley and potentially cost less due to the shorter distance of running along 80th Avenue from 160th Street with termination at Langley Events Centre. Of course, this is assuming LEC being the termination station, whereas other suggestions continued Skytrain either Northeast to Carvolth Park & Ride or South to Langley City.
Councillor Richter inquired as to how we can have this alternative route on the table with Translink. Busby responded that direction comes from Mayors Council, but if the memo is passed to Translink, the technicalities of the alternative can be reviewed and provided to the Mayors Council via Translink. Councillor Steve Ferguson echoed Richter, suggesting that Translink follows their history and puts Skytrain where the population is. Councillor Woodward also spoke up, concerned that Langley City is getting a pass on presenting a business case for the station, despite having a lower population base and quite lower growth forecast.
Servicing Cloverdale, not Langley City is the focus
While it is true that a station at the LEC (80th Avenue and 200th Street) might make a lot of sense, such a route would be problematic due to bypassing densified Surrey neighbourhoods, such as Clayton. Cloverdale/Clayton already has a population base of over 80,000. The choice of routes is not about Langley City vs Township, but rather where the current population is of Cloverdale versus the 20-25 years it will take to get to Willoughby’s 80,000 (which could actually be longer due to Brookswood development). The current route better services a greater population base now and in the future even if we don’t include superior access for Brookswood & Murrayville residents, even if we include Walnut Grove residents into the Willoughby population base. The ease of access from most of Willoughby to Willowbrook Centre, where the Langley Township centre is likely proposed, also seems to make this alternative route a hugely unnecessary exercise.
Protecting agricultural land, community amenities?
Routing Skytrain along 80th avenue also takes it through valuable agricultural land, which of course will never have any significant population base. As Vancouver-based stations show, the most success is at commercial nodes such as Willowbrook shopping which can service Willoughby, Brookswood, Langley City and the rest of the Township of Langley with other transit. A station at LEC may simply turn into a parking lot for people taking their jobs outside of Langley and the occasional Giants game, detracting from the features of the LEC.
Mayor Froese also suggested the possiblity of a terminal station at Carvolth, but I believe that the strategy for Translink is to stay away from Highway 1. Skytrain is an alternative to the Highway and can service the region in a way that differs from the Trans Canada.
Current plan is best, with a bright future
I believe the current route is the best option with offering HOV/B-line bus along 200th Street with a 20-year plan for a North/South LRT option as Willoughby and Brookswood build out. The current Skytrain plan could also allow for a 30-year vision to expand along the Fraser Highway that would have rapid transit moving through to Murrayville, Aldergrove and eventually Abbotsford for less reliance on highway traffic.
***APRIL 11, 2019 UPDATE***
Translink has held their first of several public engagement events in Langley City’s Timm’s Community Centre. I got in early to take some photos of the information boards. Check them out here:
Translink is also asking for the public to fill out a survey to gauge support. However, don’t expect to be able to have too much input…