Desmond assures Surrey, ‘TransLink is going to be here for you’

TransLink’s CEO said that if Surrey prevails with its plan to build SkyTrain instead of light rail, the transit authority will do its best to deliver rapid transit as soon as possible.

“What I want to say to the people of Surrey is TransLink is going to be here for you, whatever our policy makers decide,” Kevin Desmond said at a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade event on Thursday.

This week, Surrey council passed a motion to stop the $1.65-billion Surrey-Newton-Guildford at-grade light-rail line and start work on a SkyTrain line from King George station to Langley City. Cancelling the light-rail project was a campaign promise of Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition.

City of Surrey staff have already shifted their focus to SkyTrain and TransLink has stopped its work on light rail, including the request for quotations process.

“One way or the other, we’re going to build rail in Surrey at TransLink and we’re going to do it as effectively and as quickly as is practical,” Desmond said.

Desmond said TransLink is awaiting direction from the Mayors’ Council and the TransLink board of directors. At the Mayors’ Council meeting on Nov. 15, McCallum plans to seek a change in the wording in the 10-year regional plan, removing references to light rail and replacing them with SkyTrain.

The municipal election resulted in a huge turnover of mayors in the region — 16 new mayors and a new Electoral Area A director — which means the 23-member Mayors’ Council will be mostly new faces.

Desmond said the progress and transportation investment that have been made over the past couple of years couldn’t have happened without consensus among elected officials, and so many new members will pose a challenge for staff and mayors.

“As far as I know, it hasn’t had that type of turnover of mayors in this region either forever or in a very long time,” Desmond said. “We want to bring everybody back and hopefully get everybody still on the same page with the mayors’ plan going forward.”

Desmond said that planning and preparation was done for light rail — to the tune of about $70 million between TransLink and the city — because it’s the project that the City of Surrey wanted. It was in the 10-year regional transportation plan that was drafted in 2014 and adopted in 2015.

“The light-rail project could have done a lot good things for Surrey. They had a vision in place for years as a desire for the City of Surrey, and became policy with TransLink,” Desmond said. “It was a community-shaping project that maybe wasn’t understood well.”

However, he also called SkyTrain “a wonderful asset.”

When asked if the federal and provincial funding that have been committed to the light-rail project can be transferred to SkyTrain, Desmond said the signals they seem to be getting are “if this region wants to move in a different direction, then senior levels of government will support this region moving in a different direction.”

Overall, Desmond said, TransLink is committed to delivering the 27 kilometres of rapid transit that is outlined for Surrey in the 10-year plan, whether it’s light rail, SkyTrain or bus rapid transit.

“We’re going to be working very closely with our policy makers in the weeks ahead,” he said.

jensaltman@postmedia.com

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