Efforts to extend Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain system from Surrey’s downtown core out to Langley has just clinched $1.3 billion in additional funding from Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the funding had been secured on Friday, his second day visiting B.C. this week.
“We’re cutting pollution and creating jobs for the people of B.C.,” he said outside Surrey City Hall.
The prime minister also confirmed the federal government was committing to funding 40% of the planning costs associated with the proposed Millennium Line extension running from the under-construction Arbutus station in Vancouver out to the University of B.C.
“We will be matching the dollars that are on the table from the federal government to continue and conclude the line all the way out to UBC. These are critical investments, they need to be phased in,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said at the funding announcement.
The funding comes ahead of a widely expected federal election call in the coming weeks or months amid the current minority government.
The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation said in March the SkyTrain project was “shovel ready” but still awaiting federal money.
The entire project features 16 kilometres of elevated train tracks running from downtown Surrey to Langley city centre with eight stations in-between.
Prior to Friday’s announcement, only the first half of the extension had been funded with $1.6 billion, including $500 million from the federal government.
But another $1.5 billion was needed to extend the line to Langley.
The mayors were aiming for a similar funding model of roughly 40% federal, 40% provincial and 20% regional.
The only missing funding for the second phase of the project rested on the federal government, with the province and regional transportation authority TransLink already committing to the other portions.
“What we’re going to be able to do and what the mayors assembled here today will be able to do in their communities is not chase growth, but help shape growth,” Horgan said, referring to a number of mayors from south of the Fraser river who had also gathered for the announcement.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said a SkyTrain extension in Surrey “has been a long time coming.”
“The rapid transit project will connect people south of the Fraser to more housing, employment, skills services, encouraging higher density, mixed-use development all around those SkyTrain stations,” he said at the announcement.
The federal government announced in February $14.9 billion in new transit funding over eight years for the entire country, plus about $3 billion in ongoing funding after 2028.
Surrey’s efforts to deploy a rapid transit extension had been delayed after a new city council cancelled a well-planned light-rail project through the city in November 2018.
That project came in at the same cost of the first phase of the SkyTrain extension, meaning new planning and funding was required to replace the light-rail project with the elevated SkyTrain extension to Langley.
Since then a SkyTrain extension along Vancouver’s Broadway corridor was approved and funded.
TransLink Interim CEO Gigi Chen-Kuo said at the funding announcement that ridership on the transit system has fallen to 40% of its pre-pandemic levels and “has remained there for some time.”
“However, I’m convinced that the future is bright,” she said, pointing to increasing vaccination rates.
“Even with a shift toward working from home, our latest modelling suggests that ridership will rebound to between 70% and 90% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year.”
—With files from Graeme Wood