SURREY - Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says she's not keen on the concept of bridge tolls.
But if the provincial government and TransLink insist on imposing them, she says, she believes the grief should be spread throughout the region.
"Let's be smart about it," Watts said at her sold-out annual State of the City Address luncheon Tuesday, at Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel. "Let's make sure that it's fair and equitable across the region; that the people south of the Fraser are not being penalized, because currently they are."
Eventually the new Port Mann Bridge and Pattullo Bridge will be tolled, like Golden Ears Bridge. Watts argues that bridges on the north side of the Fraser should then be tolled too, to the tune of 75 cents to $1, so fair is fair.
"Spread it around," she said.
Watts' half-hour speech covered a lot of ground. She touched on the need for improved public transit on this side of the river, in the wake of TransLink's draft report on Surrey transportation being released.
"There's challenges in getting around."
The mayor made it clear that city hall prefers building light rail to seeing SkyTrain extended from Whalley out to Langley. She noted that about 70 per cent of the region's growth is happening south of the Fraser and said Surrey residents can expect 40 per cent more congestion and gridlock by 2040. "We can't wait 'til we're there, and try to get ourselves out of it," she said.
Watts believes adding more buses "will just add to gridlock."
Not only would the expansion of SkyTrain from Whalley to Langley, at $2 billion, be "far too expensive, " she says, it would slice through Green Timbers forest and Surrey's Agricultural Land Reserve ALR and cut Fleetwood's town centre in half. "Right through the middle."
She argues that light rail is, in comparison, is "cost effective and efficient." So the city is exploring three routes in that regard: a line linking the city centre with Guildford along 104th Avenue, a part light rail, part rapid bus line linking the city centre with South Surrey, along King George Boulevard, and one along Fraser Highway into Langley.
"Those three LRT lines cost less than one SkyTrain line to Langley," Watts said. "We've seen that technology work all over the world - all over the world - and I don't know what we're missing here, but everywhere in the world we see light rail."
The mayor also provided some interesting stats. Over the past three years, she said, Surrey has finished more than 600 road improvement projects worth over $180 million and the Build Surrey Program has attracted more than $1 billion in residential and commercial development to the city's downtown core.
Surrey is growing at three times the rate of the national average with roughly 1,000 new residents moving in each month. Last year, 4,700 babies were born here and 2,334 new businesses were started.
The city's population is roughly half a million people now, but that's expected to swell to 750,000 by 2040. Also by then, planners expect, the population south of Fraser River will be about 1.6 million.