Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner is taking umbrage with a report authored by a PhD from Cambridge that suggests the city is not on the right track when it comes to light rail.
Surrey wants TransLink to build two LRT lines. The L-Line will run along 104th Avenue connecting the city centre with Guildford Town Centre and also along King George Boulevard, connecting the city centre with Newton Town Centre at 72nd Avenue. The Surrey-Langley Line will run along Fraser Highway, connecting Surrey’s city centre with Fleetwood, Clayton, the Township of Langley and the City of Langley.
During Surrey’s 2014 civic election campaign Hepner promised a rider-ready LRT by 2018 but she has since conceded it won’t be ready by then.
Kevin Desmond, CEO of Translink, said at a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon in October that “if all goes well, the light rail project ought to be up and running by 2024.” The proposed South of the Fraser Rapid Transit network features 27 kilometres of light rail.
A research paper, Business Cases for Major Public Infrastructure Projects in Canada, was released in November on behalf of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and authored by Mario Iacobacci, who holds a PhD in Economics from Cambridge University in the UK. His biography notes indicate he “has led a career at the intersection of economics, public policy and business strategy, with an international track record in infrastructure economics, including cost-benefit analysis for the justification of publicly funded projects, infrastructure funding and mode choice behavioural modelling. The author has more than 25 years experience providing advice to boards and executives on infrastructure projects, with clients in North America and Europe.
“In reality, there is a meaningful risk that a project undertaken without a proper business case could end up making citizens’ lives worse,” Iacobacci writes. “That new commuter train might look sleek and shiny and seem convenient for some, but a close business case analysis of recent transit projects in Canada’s three largest cities suggests that in as many as four cases out of 21 projects, the burden of paying for the projects does not justify the public investment.”
Iacobacci looked at all public transit investments of $500 million or more in Greater Toronto, Greater Montreal and Metro Vancouver. Of major projects in the latter, he argued, the Canada Line and Millennium Line Evergreen Extension show “significant value creation” whereas the first phase of the Surrey LRT “is expected to destroy value, although this may turn out more positively depending on the option selected for Phase 2.”
Phase 1 is the L-shaped line and Phase 2 links Surrey City Centre with Langley Town Centre. The city’s preferred option is LRT in both cases. Phase 2, Iacobacci writes, “could potentially be an extension of the existing SkyTrain service (instead of an LRT) which would improve the business-case results significantly.”
Iacobacci posits that while most of Metro Vancouver’s projects “that have ben recently completed or are currently underway” have “either delivered net positive value (e.g., the Canada Line) or are expected to do so. The one exception is the Surrey LRT, which may not deliver value in its current form, although Phase 2 could restore the overall project to net positive value creation if it is delivered as an extension of the existing SkyTrain service rather than as an LRT.”
|Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner|
Hepner replied she “would agree to disagree.
“I think I would agree to the degree that he said we may not see the results until the shaping occurs,” she said. “But I stand by the professionals and the many systems that are going on throughout the country.
“The whole thing is about shaping a city as opposed to simply moving people from point A to point B, so I would say his comments are short-sighted in terms of planning the development of a city when you’re starting from Ground Zero,” Hepner told the Now-Leader. “Most start and have already established a core and then you build out. We’re establishing a city from building the centre from ground up, which is rather unusual, and so this is the system that we and hundreds others around the world have used to shape their cities, and that’s what our intention is.”
Hepner said the author of the report “sounds biased to the degree that I don’t understand but he’d be welcome to talk to our engineers to get a bit more information but maybe my only comment is our intention to shape the city and that he’s probably correct in terms of the business case, that’s why we have developed the city centre plan to allow for the densification around the corridor.”