British Columbia

Light rail to Surrey by 2018: tips from Toronto's chief planner

Toronto's chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat describes how her city got a $7 billion LRT project, and how Surrey can get its own project underway.

Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat says cities across Canada are a 'generation behind' on transit

A mock-up of what the Surrey light rail transit system would look like. The city has struggled to secure funding for the project, first proposed in 2012. (City of Surrey)

Toronto's chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat has a few suggestions for how Surrey can get a light rail system up and running by 2018.

Keesmaat's team is currently overseeing the community integration aspect of Toronto's $7 billion Eglinton-Crosstown LRT project.

"It takes tenacity to drive a project like this through," she told the The Early Edition.

"Having a really strong vision that people can rally around is a critical part of being able to deliver on the promise," she added.

Any transit plan has to be more than just a way to move people from place to place, she explained.

It should also include green spaces, cycling infrastructure and opportunities for local retail.

A strong vision, she said, leads to public buy-in.

"When you start looking at those bigger questions, then you get into a position that people start recognizing their own self-interest in building the transit."

Surrey has a long way to go

Although Keesmaat is at the delivery stage of her project, she said it hasn't been easy.

The line won't open until 2021, and it has already taken years to get to this point, including two years of consultation with over 60,000 people.

Surrey has a long way to go.

Surrey's future LRT system  — with three lines running from the city centre area to Newton, Guildford and Langley —  was proposed back in 2012.

Surrey mayor Linda Hepner made it a campaign promise to get part of the system up and running by 2018, but later said she hoped construction would start by 2018.

"I'll put it simply," Keesmaat said. "[These projects] take a long time in a democracy. We don't just ram through the will of the people. We do have this dialogue and we do build support."

Toronto project provincially funded

One major obstacle for Surrey's LRT system has been finding funding for the $2.7 billion project.

Toronto's Eglinton-Crosstown project, at a considerably higher $7 billion price tag, is being covered by funding from the government of Ontario.

For Surrey, the province has committed to funding a third, and the federal government has promised to fund half of the cost.

Prime Minister Trudeau, riding the SkyTrain with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and B.C. Premier Christy Clark. The federal government has promised to fund half of Surrey's proposed LRT project.

The city has yet to find the remaining 17 per cent.

"There's no golden pot of money twinkling in the sunlight saying spend me on transit," Keesmaat said. "It's always a challenge, and for the subsequent projects, we have a significant negotiation to find that money as well."

But she said it's imperative to get transportation infrastructure in place before the price goes any higher.

"We can't wait. In most of the cities in Canada, we're about a generation behind. We have to be very aggressive in driving these projects forward."

With files from The Early Edition


To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Toronto chief planner on how to get an LRT in Surrey, B.C.

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