For over two decades the Light Rail Committee has stated that to have a viable alternative to the car, over 300 km. of light rail must be built in the region, the question of course is, “can we afford it?” The answer is yes!
To be successful modern LRT must not just serve major destinations like town centres, universities and alike, but it must penetrate into the suburbs where people live. To do so, it must be built cheaply and to build LRT cheaply, it must be free of any major engineering such as tunnels and viaducts.
TransLink’s planners have generously inflated the cost of modern LRT to such a point that it has become equal to SkyTrain, which coincides with their thinking that light-rail is just a poorman’s SkyTrain. This blinkered thinking has greatly reduced the ability of TransLink and ‘Metro’ Vancouver (GVRD) to plan for future transit applications, especially for rail transit. With SkyTrain’s costs now well exceeding $100 million/km., planning is now done in about 10 km. or $1 billion and change, increments. This myopic vision has retarded any useful ‘rail’ planning for the Fraser Valley.
To build 300 km. of SkyTrain in the region would cost over $30 billion, but by using LRT both on the former Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban route and separate LRT/streetcar networks in Vancouver, Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford, could cost for 300 k. of new LRT could be as little as $5 billion. A deluxe Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban service (15 to 20 min headways) would cost about $1 billion to install, while 200 km. of LRT/streetcar in Vancouver, Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford, at about $20 million/km. to build, would cost about $4 billion, or a grand total of $5 billion. The key is to build it cheaply, by building light rail on-street where possible. Of course, the more engineering included in construction increases the cost, the trick is to keep engineering to a minimum.
In a province where the cost metro construction has exceeded $2.5 billion for the 19 km. RAV Line, TransLink and Metro transportation planners have forgotten that a real light rail alternative can be built much cheaper than SkyTrain. As well, that hoary old saw that the Fraser Valley doesn’t have the density for rail can be put to rest once and for all, for if RAV/SkyTrain operates in areas with densities as low as 2,000 per sq./km., much cheaper LRT, costing about one fifth the cost of SkyTrain, could happily operate in areas with densities as low as 400 persons per sq./km.!
The defenders of the massive Gateway highways and bridge project, as well as the SkyTrain/RAV lobby have failed to understand modern light-rail philosophy, “Build it cheaply and build lots”, and by doing so have condemned the region to continued and future gridlock, pollution, with ever increasing property and auto taxes to fund and subsidize an unworkable, ill-conceived, and dated regional transportation infrastructure.
The 300 kilometre solution: it’s time we start now, to save the future.