Almost exactly a year after the federal and provincial governments announced the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project would be built in a single phase, the business case supporting the project is now officially approved by both levels of government.
Work on a business case was conducted over the past year, and procurement for private contractors will begin very soon.
The project was previously planned by TransLink as a two-phase project, with the first phase reaching Fleetwood by 2025. After the October 2020 provincial election, the BC NDP provincial government followed through with their campaign promise to build it in one phase and took over jurisdiction of the entire project from the struggling public transit authority.
“The leadership at TransLink has much to be proud of as they came out of [the pandemic] amongst the best in North America, and the federal and province were there to help negotiate funding to help service resume. It did affect planning and the ability to move forward with the project at the time,” said Rob Fleming, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, during today’s press conference.
“We didn’t want this project to slip away… It was between a project that had been knocked off course by the events that were experienced globally and here in British Columbia.”
With the business case now green lighted, the bidding process will now begin in August 2022 for a private contractor for the elevated SkyTrain guideway, which will be the first contract. The second contract will be for station construction and new cycling and walking paths along the corridor, with procurement starting this fall. The third contract will be for electrical systems and track work — including integration with the existing SkyTrain network — with procurement potentially beginning in late 2022.
Major construction is anticipated to start in 2024, with the extension opening by late 2028.
While the provincial government previously issued separate contracts for preliminary construction work for new SkyTrain projects, such as site preparation activities in advance of major construction, it typically chose a single main contractor. That single contractor would then sub-contract some of the components of the work.
Spanish engineering giant Acciona and tunnelling firm Ghella have formed a partnership as the main contractor for the Millennium Line Broadway Extension currently under construction, while SNC-Lavalin was the main contractor for the Canada Line and Millennium Line Evergreen Extension.
The provincial government states the unique approach of three separate major contracts will “increase bid competition and enable more local companies to bid on different elements of the project.”
Under this new business case, the entire Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project carries a cost of $3.94 billion, with the federal government contributing $1.306 billion (as announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in July 2021), provincial government contributing $2.476 billion, and the local level of TransLink and the City of Surrey contributing $228 million.
When $60 million in active transportation components — walking and cycling pathways — along or near Fraser Highway are included in the cost, the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project budget reaches $4.01 billion.
The provincial government’s contribution is based on its commitment to fund 40% of the total cost of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council’s $6 billion 2022 Investment Plan.
Fleming says the completion of the project in a single phase by 2028 instead of two phases by 2030 reduces its cost by about $500 million.
The Surrey-Langley SkyTrain will be a seamless extension of the existing Expo Line from King George to Langley Centre, with 16 km of elevated track following Fraser Highway, and eight new stations. This provides a one-train ride from Waterfront Station to the Expo Line’s new terminus of 203 Street in Langley.
The completion of this project will grow the entire SkyTrain network length to over 100 km, including the 2025 completion of the Millennium Line Broadway Extension to Arbutus.
The travel time between King George Station and 203 Street Station will be about 22 minutes, while the travel time between Waterfront Station and 203 Street Station will be about 62 minutes.
Upon opening in 2028, trains will run every six minutes during peak hours and 10 minutes during mid-day. By 2050, with increased ridership, the frequencies will further improve to every 4 minutes 30 seconds during peak hours, but mid-day frequencies of 10 minutes will remain.
“The Surrey Langley SkyTrain will transform the region by providing a zero-emission rapid transit option for people travelling to, from and within Surrey and Langley, while helping business and communities flourish,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn.
The extension’s projected ridership is 56,000 boardings daily in 2028 (equivalent to the 2019 ridership of the 99 B-Line), 64,000 boardings daily by 2035, and 80,000 boardings daily by 2050 (equivalent to the opening day ridership of the Canada Line in 2009).
The two busiest stations on the extension — 152 Street Station and 203 Street Station — will have a 2028 ridership comparable to Oakridge-41st Avenue Station in 2019.
The peak hour capacity of the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension will reach 7,560 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) in 2050. This will be comparable to the 2050 capacities of 6,660 pphpd for the Canada Line between Waterfront and Richmond-Brighouse stations (not the trains to YVR Airport), and 7,560 pphpd for the Millennium Line from Arbutus to Lafarge Lake-Douglas.
A portion of the project’s cost will go towards additional operations and maintenance centre (OMC5) serving the Expo Line, with the massive facility expected to be located in Langley. But the actual construction of OMC5 will not be part of the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project scope.
The provincial government’s BC Major Infrastructure Projects Brochure, published this past spring, suggests the OMC5 facility will be a separate project, with an estimated cost range within the category of between $500 million and $1 billion. Procurement for OMC5 will start in the latter half of 2022, with construction anticipated between 2023 and 2028.
This will be a very significant facility to accommodate both Surrey-Langley SkyTrain car operations and the overall long-term growth of the SkyTrain car fleet.
According to the newly released business case, based on a wide range of factors, the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of the project is now 1.02. A project with a BCR of 1.0 means the project’s economic benefits break even on costs, while a ratio exceeding 1.0 is indicative of a project with benefits that exceed costs.
TransLink’s previous analysis of the project showed the Fleetwood extension would have a BCR of 1.12, while the full extension reaching Langley Centre would have a BCR of 1.24. The lower BCR produced by the provincial government under the new business case is likely reflective of the project’s budget escalation from rising costs for materials and labour.
The cancelled Surrey-Newton Guildford LRT that was replaced by this SkyTrain project had a poor BCR of 0.69, the Canada Line had a BCR of 1.25, the Millennium Line Broadway Extension reaching Arbutus has a BCR of 1.64, and the Burnaby Mountain Gondola reaching SFU has a BCR of 1.8.
The benefits of the project could further improve from the immense transit-oriented densification that will be catalyzed along the Fraser Highway corridor as a direct result of the Expo Line extension.
TransLink and the provincial government have agreements with the City of Surrey and City of Langley to densify the corridor in exchange for the major transit investment. The agreements focus on boosting the market and affordable housing supply through increased density, mixed-use developments, and retail and office space, with close coordination with TransLink.
The City of Surrey’s agreement resulted in the Fleetwood Plan planning process. Earlier this year, Surrey City Council approved the Fleetwood Plan’s early framework of doubling the number of homes — from 13,000 units today with 40,000 residents to 28,000 units with 84,000 residents — around the future 152 Street, 160 Street, and 166 Street stations in Fleetwood. The full build-out of the area plan over 30 years could reach 52,000 units with 142,000 residents — a population increase of about 100,000 residents compared to today within an area of about 2,200 acres. The number of jobs would also grow from 3,500 today to 16,000 by 2051.
Densification is also planned by the City of Langley for Langley Centre, but the potential for taller building heights is more limited due to the city centre’s close proximity to Langley Regional Airport.
“The City of Langley is excited to the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain business case approved and the federal and provincial governments seizing the opportunity to invest in communities south of the Fraser,” said Val van Den Broek, mayor of the City of Langley.
“The anticipated SkyTrain will catalyze sustainable, transit-oriented developments, improve housing affordability, encourage actions that address climate change, preserve greenspace and create welcoming public spaces that further enhance our city’s highly walkable and vibrant neighbourhoods.”