British Columbia

Businesses in Surrey's Newton area won't give up on LRT

Many people who live and work next to the vacant lots and boarded up storefronts near King George Boulevard and 72 Avenue in Surrey’s Newton neighbourhood aren’t ready to give up on light rail.

Mayor elect Doug McCallum says he'll kill a $1.65 billion LRT project

LRT proponents in Surrey's Newton neighbourhood argue light rail is crucial to the area's revitalization. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Many people who live and work next to the vacant lots and boarded up storefronts near King George Boulevard and 72 Avenue in Surrey's Newton neighbourhood aren't ready to give up on light rail.

All the funding is locked in for a $1.65 billion LRT line that would run in an L-shape from Guildford to Whalley to Newton, finally providing rapid transit to a community that has been underserved for years.

Surrey mayor elect Doug McCallum's campaign promise to scrap the project helped him secure a huge election victory, but his position isn't popular with everyone.

Philip Aguirre, who heads up the Newton BIA and owns a restaurant in the area, argues rapid transit will be the spark that finally leads to the area's revitalization.

"We've been hopeful for LRT for five years now," Aguirre said. "We can transform the town centre into a more vibrant community."

SkyTrain vs. LRT​

McCallum is proposing a SkyTrain line from Whalley to Langley along the Fraser Highway, which would cost about $2.9 billion, according to 2017 estimates from TransLink.

To make that happen, he'll need the support of Metro Vancouver mayors and will have to figure out where the additional money is going to come from.

Aguirre says those negotiations could take years, and he believes Newton needs rapid transit immediately.

"We can still do SkyTrain, but let's not put Newton at risk," he said.

"Let's not turn our backs on the funding that's been secured for LRT."

'It's a gong show'

Jennifer Colledge, who lives near the intersection of King George Boulevard and 72 Avenue, says taking the bus to work is a struggle.

"It's a gong show," she said. "I work at 5 a.m. and I stand there at 4:30. Sometimes two buses will drive by because they're full."

Sarah Pryor, who also lives in the area, says you can't live in Newton without a car.

"I drive, but I hear the kids say 'when are they going to put a frickin SkyTrain through here?'," she said. "It's ridiculous."

Land value

Property values along the proposed LRT line have spiked in recent years as developers looked to cash in on some of the higher density housing that's planned near the transit stops.

Joe Varing, who handles land deals for residential development in the Fraser Valley for the Varing Marketing Group, doesn't think land values will drop now that LRT is in jeopardy.

"SkyTrain — if that's the route we're going — will still have B-Line stops that connect, so I think everybody is going to be OK," he said.

"I don't think there's anything to worry about."

Fraser Valley Real Estate Board president John Barbisan says it's premature to say the LRT project won't go ahead, even if McCallum has promised to kill it.

"It has come out of the new mayor's mouth, but there are a lot of other players in this that have some say in the matter," he said.

"To conclude that it's not happening is rather premature."