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Sep 13,2004

Coquitlam firm - TransLink needs 'to get back to SkyTrain'

By Ken Gracey - Staff Reporter

A closer look at surface rail options had members of Coquitlam council wondering if the northeast sector is at the back of the bus when it comes to Lower Mainland transit decisions.

A presentation by TransLink vice president of planning, Glen Leicester, on light rail options being considered for northeast rapid transit had some councillors' blood boiling.

The presentation, which included video clips of light rail technologies in Europe, was part of TransLink's community consultation on rapid transit to the Tri-Cities, which has included meetings with community leaders, open houses and a random phone survey of 1,500 northeast sector residents.

The phone survey will be concluded in October, but feedback from the open houses had most residents opting for SkyTrain over at-grade light rail systems - a sentiment Coquitlam council holds unanimously.

"I think all this is for naught, and I'm not very pleased," said Coun. Kent Becker, adding he felt light rail was being pushed on the Tri-Cities because there was no money left to build SkyTrain after TransLink approved the $1.5 to $1.7-billion Richmond-Airport-Vancouver line.

Becker went on to say community leaders, who have sat in consultation meetings with TransLink, have told him they felt uncomfortable with the way the options are being presented.

"They felt pressure, they felt rushed and they felt an outcome was being pushed," Becker said.

However, Leicester said he had not heard that from people at the community leaders meetings, which included representatives from environmental, business and community groups. He told council on Tuesday that at-grade technologies were favoured by those who attended the meetings.

Three options are on the table - SkyTrain, an at-grade rail system (LRT), and a guided rubber tire system (GLR) that all run in designated corridors. Unlike SkyTrain, the LRT and GLT systems run along the street and are operated by a driver.

Both are less expensive than SkyTrain, but they are much slower.

According to TransLink, it would take a SkyTrain running from Lougheed or Braid Station along a northwest alignment 12 to 13 minutes to arrive at Coquitlam Town Centre. A LRT would take 21 to 24 minutes, while a GLT would take 23 minutes depending on the exact alignment of the lines.

"I need to see where people will get on a system that will take twice as long to get there as driving their car," said Coun. Mae Reid, who like other councillors and the mayor, believes SkyTrain is the best option.

"To give us another fancy bus system makes no sense at all," she said, referring to the GLT. "We need to get back to SkyTrain."

Currently, a bus running along a similar route takes 33 to 37 minutes, but that can vary depending on traffic, Leicester told The NOW Wednesday. He said a light rail or rubber-tired system would be much faster because it operates in its own corridor and has priority at traffic signals.

However, Leicester admitted TransLink has reservations with the GLT, as it is a new technology that has not been tested over a long period of time in an urban environment.

In the end, cost is going to be an issue, as TransLink only has $570 million designated for the line to the northeast sector. Leicester told council more money could be found through delaying some road projects, but unlike the RAV line, there has been no talk about striking up a partnership with the private sector to build the line.

Mayor Jon Kingsbury said comparing this line to the RAV line is not fair, because that line received federal and provincial subsidies to the tune of nearly $1 billion. This line, he said, is solely TransLink's responsibility to build and fund.

The cost of SkyTrain, which is unpopular in Port Moody, is estimated to be close to $1.3 billion, while an LRT would cost around $1 billion and a GLT approximately $600 million running on a northwest alignment. The estimated annual operating costs for the LRT and GLT are lower, but it is estimated SkyTrain will have a higher ridership and generate more revenue as a result.

Leicester said every option, including lines running through the southeast corridor are being looked at, but the northwest alignment is the favoured one.

"We want to make sure, given the expenditure of public moneys ... we should look at the broadest range of technologies," he said.

The project team will recommend a technology and alignment to the TransLink board at its October meeting after it compiles the results from the phone survey.

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