On December 1st, the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) hosted an event to facilitate conversation about development in Surrey, which included a presentation on the proposed Light Rapid Transit (LRT), an address by Surrey’s Mayor Linda Hepner and updates from the head of Surrey’s Planning and Engineering departments.
The video presentation on the proposed LRT explained the two phases of the 27 km light rail project with the phase 1 connecting Newton Exchange to City Centre and continuing on to a new Guildford bus exchange, and phase 2 connecting City Centre to the City and Township of Langley. Fraser Smith, Manager of Engineering at the City of Surrey explained later in the forum that LRT was chosen over SkyTrain for its economic advantages, its ability to provide exposure to local businesses along the transit route and because at-grade transit is more efficient over shorter distances than an elevated train system.
Linda Hepner shared her pride for Surrey’s recent achievements, available initiatives to spur development in the City and the opportunities that are being created by the City’s investment in infrastructure, technology and administrative process. “Surrey is projected to absorb 70% of the entire regions population growth over the next 40 years,” explained Hepner. The City’s priorities continue to be innovation, digital communication, transportation and becoming a “smart city”.
Following Mayor Hepner’s comment regarding Surrey’s role in absorbing population growth, Jean Lamontagne, Manager of Planning and Development at the City of Surrey lead his address pointing out Surrey’s focus on monitoring housing composition and ensuring capacity for development in areas like town centres. “Surrey is still much of a home ownership community,” says Lamontagne, pointing to a stat outlining Surrey is over 70% ownership in contrast to Vancouver’s 49% ownership.
Mr. Lamontagne provided an update on their objective to make the entire application process online and digital to shorten application times and improve efficiency. “What’s killing us is all the revisions,” explained Lamontagne. “We provide comments on an application and then the applicant comes back with late-stage revisions.” Lamontagne is clearly very committed to a collaborative application process. He requested that if an applicant has deadlines that those are shared with planning staff, so they have the opportunity to assist in achieving those timelines.
“We believe light rail can be a catalyst for growth in the community,” explained Fraser Smith, GM of Engineering for the City of Surrey as he built on the high-level overview of the future LRT project shared earlier in the forum. The LRT will be the biggest investment in Surrey’s history and construction is slated to begin in 2019 with a target completion date in 2023. Smith made it clear they are focused on constant communication with businesses along the corridor to ensure business remains vibrant throughout the construction period and to mitigate parking, noise and dust issues.
The forum was concluded with a question and answer period from which the key take-aways include:
- Train Safety – The light rail trains will be operated by drivers and given priority at intersections to minimize accidents
- Planning Staff Resources – Despite retirements and a general shortage of skilled workers – like most trades – the City is fully staffed and “always on the look out for good staff.” (Lamontagne)
- The LRT has received a commitment from the federal government to fund 40% of the 27 km project. It is now on the region to secure funding for the remainder in order to receive the federally committed funds.
- Staff are in the process of finalizing an affordable housing strategy to present to Council in January 2018, the strategy will outline how the City will help facilitate the delivery of affordable housing.