Letter: Why should Surrey build light rail transit and why it matters to Langley

Surrey is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Canada and is expected to surpass Vancouver in population within 30 years. As the largest municipality south of the Fraser, it is becoming the “downtown” for this rapidly expanding area, supporting its largest acute care hospital, Surrey Memorial, as well as Simon Fraser and Kwantlen University campuses. It is also three times the size of Vancouver and contains one-third of the Region’s agricultural land. These factors challenge Surrey in managing its growth and economic development.

Construction of proposed LRT lines, linking Surrey City Centre and Guildford, Newton, Fleetwood and Langley Town Centres, is an important part of meeting this challenge. LRT is known to stimulate investment and high-quality residential, retail, entertainment and civic development in many North American cities, which generates additional employment and will increase Surrey’s tax base. By helping to focus and intensify urban development, the LRT will also contribute to sustaining Surrey’s agricultural land.

Unlike RapidBus or SkyTrain, LRT has both a permanent physical presence yet is pedestrian-friendly and human in scale, which encourages both eyes on-the-street and from-the-street visibility. This, together with its accompanying requisite urban-style neighbourhood lighting, landscaping and other design elements, make it more compatible with lower density portions of the lines and supports a mix of residential densities that will help maintain Surrey’s role as a provider of affordable family-oriented housing. LRT’s frequent, reliable and permanent service presence may also make single or no car households more feasible, which can assist affordability. In addition, its lower cost per kilometer compared to SkyTrain means more line can be built, which is what Surrey needs given its geographic size, variation, spread of communities and rapidity of expected growth.

LRT contributes to Surrey’s Economic Development Strategy, which targets the City Centre as a catalyst for broadening investment, economic growth and employment and increasing high-value jobs in the health and high-tech sectors, two of the City Centre’s existing strengths. By improving access to Surrey Memorial Hospital and its health/life sciences cluster, LRT will make it a more desirable workplace and create better connections to other regional health facilities, which are critical to success and employment growth in the health sector. LRT is also highly-prized in recruiting and retaining high-tech employees, which, in addition to Surrey’s increasing vitality, diversity and relative affordability, will make it more attractive for these highly-competitive businesses.

From a financial perspective, the LRT will generate significant benefits not only to Surrey but to the Region, BC and Canada as a whole. Construction alone will generate an estimated 24,600 local and 4,200 jobs elsewhere in Canada resulting in $1.4 billion in wages locally and $242 million elsewhere in Canada.  It will also return $132 million in taxes to BC and $354 million to Canada. On-going operations and maintenance will annually create another 400 to 600 high-value jobs in Surrey and $22 to $35 million in wages, resulting in approximately $4 and $6 million in additional taxes for BC and Canada respectively.

All of these benefits support Surrey’s Official Community Plan and Economic Development Strategy, BC’s Job Action Plan and Canada’s Economic Action Plan. Surrey is a growing municipality, with a younger, predominantly working age, two-income family population, that is seeking to shape future development to build on existing strengths, including diverse and affordable housing, employment in health sciences, a burgeoning high-tech sector, and a rich and important agricultural sector. At the same time, it is looking to the future and how to improve quality of life by attracting more high-value jobs and enhancing access and increasing mobility options for residents and employees to work, shop, entertainment and recreation within and outside Surrey.

No one transportation solution is perfect for every situation or community. Each needs to assess what it wants to achieve from this investment. In Surrey, it is LRT.

Teresa Watts, economist

To view her report on Surrey transportation, click HERE

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