Kitchener-Waterloo Opts For Light Rail & Gets Instant Funding

Kitchener-Waterloo  has been working away at a Rapid Transit plan since 2004, almost entirely out of the Toronto media spotlight, including mine.  (A large amount of background detail can be found in the “Reports” section.)

Earlier this week, on June 24, Waterloo Regional Council approved the line which will be built initially with LRT in the north (KW) end, and BRT to the south in Cambridge.  The first big surprise came Friday in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record who reported that both Ottawa and Queen’s Park were planning to fund the project.  News of this reached me while Toronto Council was wrangling over funding for the purchase of new streetcars.

No sooner had Waterloo approved the LRT line, but local Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear announced that Ottawa would contribute $160-million to the project whose total estimated cost is $790-million.  This took Regional Chair Ken Seiling completely by surprise.  Support also came from Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth who pointed out that this money will come from the “Build Canada Fund”, not the “Stimulus Fund” and therefore the project is not constrained by the latter’s March 2011 cutoff.

Meanwhile, the Liberal MPP for Kitchener, John Milloy, announced that Queen’s Park will provide two-thirds funding for this project.  If you do the math, this leaves Waterloo Region with a comparatively small cost, roughly 1/6 of the total.  The project also has support from local Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer.  Bipartisan enthusiasm for transit is a refreshing change from Toronto where transit projects are used to score political points by the right wing of Council.

I received notes about this project from various readers before writing this article.

Tony Turrittin of Transport 2000 wrote:

Tonight the Waterloo Regional Council overwhelmingly approved the proposed rapid transit plan with a first stage LRT in Waterloo and Kitchener. This basically completes a six year process and its accompanying EA.

Cambridge will get BRT for now, LRT later. Many many Cambridge people are upset about not getting the LRT from the beginning. One councillor from Cambridge stated on June 10 that without LRT, ridership would never build to the level that would justify LRT being extended to Cambridge.

The powers that be in Cambridge were so upset that LRT for them was in the second stage, that they formally opposed LRT even for KW, and they hired Delcan to deliver a report available on the City’s website that argued that BRT was superior to LRT and that the case for LRT made by the EA had not been substantiated! Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. I thought such things only happened in Ottawa.

I am pleased that I was able to help get a group going in KW that helped to push the plan over the top. It was done through a Facebook campaign that resulted in a large majority of deputations at the Region’s June 10 council meeting making the case in favour of LRT, and also getting written support to the Regional Chair by way of letters and e-mails.

This became important because starting about mid-May the KW Record seemed to be grinding out all sorts of anti-LRT content. The next step is for the Region to get funding from the Province and the Feds and to tweak the route plan of the light rail line.

I have not been able to locate the Cambridge BRT study, and if anyone has the URL for it, please leave it in a comment.

John F. Mackay wrote both to me and to spacing magazine:

Dear Steve Munro & the Spacing gang,

I enjoy both of your blogs on transit and (in Spacing’s case) various other Toronto issues. I just wanted to draw your attention to an article in this morning’s Kitchener/Waterloo Record which suggests that a mere two days after the Waterloo Region council approved an LRT line, the federal Conservatives are offering to fund a part of it, with the Council having yet made no applications for funding in the stimulus program or otherwise. Granted, it’s only the local MP’s and not John Baird, but one of them is a cabinet minister making a prepared statement of a kind that this government doesn’t just fire off randomly without central approval.

The article also quotes a Liberal cabinet minister suggesting that Queen’s Park might even pay two thirds even though the usual for them is one third.

I haven’t seen this noted on any Toronto media, mainstream or otherwise, but it seems relevant, given that it casts some doubt on the feds’ claims that they’re refusing to fund our new vehicles not because of any dislike for transit or Toronto but only out of pure love for the integrity of the stimulus application process.

I also wonder whether any of you know whether our vehicles would be eligible for the Building Canada fund mentioned in the article, which seems to have less stringent criteria than the stimulus fund.

Best regards,
John Mackay

P.S. I note, without comment, the following results from the 2008 federal election:

Kitchener Centre
Stephen Woodworth (CON) 36.68%
Karen Redman (LIB) 35.92%
Oz Cole-Arnal (NDP) 18.14%
John Bithell (GRN) 8.50%
Amanda Lamka (IND) 0.48%

Peter Braid (CON) 36.06%
Andrew Telegdi (LIB) 36.03%
Cindy Jacobsen (NDP) 14.73%
Cathy MacLellan (GRN) 12.10%
Jason Cousineau (LTN) 0.55%

As far as I know, BCF money can be used to pay for vehicles which are an integral part of any transit project.

The election results above show clearly that the Tories are vulnerable in KW, and they seem much more responsive to transit projects there (without even a letter of application) than in Toronto.

At this point, there is no word on a vehicle selection for KW.  It will be intriguing to see whether Queen’s Park dictates that the work will go to Thunder Bay as an add-on to Toronto’s Transit City order, or if KW will proceed through its own procurement.

45 thoughts on “Kitchener-Waterloo Opts For Light Rail & Gets Instant Funding

  1. Steve: “Actually, different gauges, provided that they are close (as TTC and standard gauge are), do not present too much of a problem. Don’t forget that the Flexity cars are already produced for standard gauge systems elsewhere and this does not have to be reinvented. It’s the TTC cars that are “special”.

    I also believe that they are built for some metre gauge lines and that is a lot different than 1488 mm standard gauge. Don’t worry about the gauge, they can build what ever you want.


  2. Go LRT! Yeah. Wonder what that says about Toronto. Even Detroit is planning its own LRT line.

    Hang on a a sec…

    BRT for Cambridge? You’re kidding! Anyone who has visited LightRailNow knows this is definitely the more expensive (and ludicrous) of the two proposals so far.

    A Trolleybusway might work if the particular vehicle didn’t happen to be extinct.


  3. I want to say that this plan is very embryonic, this plan would better fit in 30 years, when the cities will have the ridership to justify a project of this magnitude.

    The lack of planning and reality devoted to this project will certainly leave all the citizens with a massive debt load which we will be paying for years to come, another debt retirement charge added to the many other charges we already pay.

    This community is a vehicle based community and getting them out of their cars is a none starter, I would like to see the current transit system become more efficient and increase the number of ridership, It is very disappointing to see near empty buses at rush hour and to the we will add near empty LRT system. Fix the ols system before moving on.

    This is not growth demanding and busting at the seems necessity, only perhaps LEGACY driven on the part of some players.

    I believe that the estimated cost will triple in price, when it is all said and done.



  4. Mario P:

    Please refer to these maps.

    You can see immediately that plenty of planning has already been done and the plan can in no way be considered “embryonic”. In 30 years existing transportation systems would be choked with the large increase in population that is planned. Now is the time to start building efficient, cost-effective light rail rather than yet more expensive roads.

    The comment about “lack of planning and reality” is insulting to all the professionals who have in fact completed years of planning for this project. The Regional Transportation Master Plan is built around construction of a rapid transit line and consists itself of additional planning. I don’t believe much if any debt is planned to be incurred for the LRT project—it will be paid for out of current tax revenues, although I welcome evidence-based correction on this point. Even if we were to incur debt, it would be appropriate debt since the LRT is a long-term asset.

    “Vehicle based”? People will choose from the available options. Of course people drive most places—many trips simply cannot be made efficiently by the currently-existing public transit. GRT and the Region know this, and are working on the problem. You say you want the current system to become more efficient and increase ridership. This is already happening, and already the iXpress is overloaded at many times. It will start running every 10 minutes in just a few weeks. A couple more increases on top of that, and iXpress ridership will exceed the convenient capacity of a bus route. I will be quite surprised, actually, if the iXpress isn’t overloaded before the LRT starts running.

    Your unsubstantiated beliefs concerning estimated costs mean nothing. I could as easily criticize a highway project or any project by saying I think the costs will triple.


  5. Re: MarioP

    Moreover, when have you ever seen empty buses on the corridor in question? The current system CAN’T handle the ridership on King, and frankly that makes the total size of the city or systemwide ridership irrelevant. This corridor needs LRT, the rest of the region doesn’t. How most of the region not needing rapid transit means that the parts that do shouldn’t get it is beyond me.


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