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Abbotsford, Langley, Surrey talk light-rail transit

When city councillors in Abbotsford got together early this month and laid the tracks for the city’s transportation future, it was another sign of the growing gap between provincial transportation policy and public opinion south of the Fraser.

Abbotsford gave the thumbs up to a plan to explore light rail transit throughout the region. Yet the concept is nowhere to be found in the provincial government’s long-term transit plan, released earlier this year.

That plan proposed $1.1 billion for a six-kilometre SkyTrain extension in Surrey, yet promises for communities like Langley and Abbotsford are slim.

“It kind of left us not certain how we would factor into the plan,” Abbotsford Coun. Lynne Harris said. “It wasn’t really enough for us.”

Instead, Abbotsford formed a regional transportation committee and pledged to work with its neighbours in Langley and Surrey to establish a light rail network.

“We thought if something was going to happen in the future that is going to address our needs, we’re going to have to start visioning that now,” Harris said.

Light rail, she said, is fast gaining momentum as a viable transit alternative.

“All you have to do is sit on the freeway,” Harris said of the unending traffic congestion in and out of her community. “I think there’s a lot of frustration. Twenty years from now, we’re going to have chaos if we don’t create some alternatives.”

Surrey council candidate Paul Hillsdon is staking his campaign on light rail. Using numbers from the province and TransLink, Hillsdon has come up with his own transit plan that would see the $1.1 billion SkyTrain extension nixed in favour of 43 kilometres of at-grade light rail.

“The fact of the matter is SkyTrain is very expensive,” Hillsdon says. “With light rail, we can get it to all of the major communities for the exact same price.”

Politicians in Langley and Surrey, too, have come out in support of light rail, despite the province’s apparent push in the opposite direction.

“There’s a huge disconnect between what the transportation minister seems to think he wants for the area and what the actual residents want for the area,” Hillsdon says. “That’s what it comes down to.”

Irwin Loy reports for Vancouver's 24 hours.

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