If the region builds a light rail transit system, when it fails we’ll take great pleasure in turfing every elected official who voted for it – witness what happened to City of Waterloo councillors linked to the RIM Park fiasco.
And just like in the Waterloo example, we’ll still be stuck with the bill. Worse yet, at least the city has a usable recreation complex that will one day be paid for, where the region would be saddled with a white elephant.
On the upside, there is growing opposition to the LRT proposal. On the downside, few Region of Waterloo residents know the full extent of the plan, making it easier for the politicians to move ahead. For Taxpayers for Sensible Transit (T4ST), the goal is to keep a light on the project, exposing just how bad the idea is.
“When I started talking to people, I was really amazed at the number of people who didn’t know what this was about, and what it would mean,” says Peter Gay, co-chair of the grassroots organization opposing the train. “I think there has been a real disconnect between what people know about the LRT and what the region is planning to do.”
The more details people know, the more likely they are to oppose the LRT, he adds.
There’s the cost: $710 million for a train linking Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park in Kitchener, versus $80 million for the modified bus rapid transit proposed to serve Cambridge. That figure is likely to escalate before work begins, and again dramatically once work is underway. And there will be hundreds of millions more spent on reworking the existing infrastructure to accommodate the train route, including improvements to roadways to handle traffic forced off of the transit corridor, including King Street.
The disruption to traffic, businesses and people’s lives may be greater still, Gay suggests. And it’s precisely those costs that go unaddressed or glossed over in the region’s boosterism for the project. It wasn’t until he started reading reports in detail and asking questions that he understood the extent of the proposal, and just how bad the impact would be.
“The more I have dug into what has transpired, the more I say we have to re-think this. The public is not in favour of this option.”
Having spoken directly with 500 or 600 people since becoming involved with T4ST last spring, he’s found only a handful who support building a light rail system.
Too expensive. Unlikely to be used even to the low numbers predicted. A north-south corridor going against the grain of east-west growth. Inflexible, unlike the bus option that even LRT supporters acknowledge is superior from a transit perspective. The strikes against the LRT are many. The biggest factor in the region’s decision is a hope the train will reshape the urban area, prompting businesses to relocate and residents to live along the rail line.
That’s essentially a gamble on the idea that if you build it, they will come. The bet gets even riskier still, he says, given the choice to run part of the route out by the University of Waterloo and the adjacent business park. “How does that help? How does that increase density in the core?”
Praising the region’s growth management strategy, Gay says planners are off the rails when intensification becomes the only visible rationale for spending so much money. Will young families looking for a patch of grass and a place to set up a swing live in King Street condos? That’s about as likely as people ditching their 15-minute car ride in favour of two hours on public transit.
Early on in the growth strategy process, the region became enamoured with the LRT, and has spent the last few years building a case for what was essentially already decided, he suggests. Reversing that stance will take a public backlash against the politicians, making the train an issue in the run-up to next year’s municipal elections.
To do that, the goal will be to keep the LRT proposal in the spotlight, chipping away at what the group sees as a shaky foundation. The plan’s weaknesses start with the cost and associated financing. The region is counting on the federal and provincial governments to cover the $710 million. But what happens when costs escalate, and then overrun those overinflated figures? If other infrastructure projects – including some in Woolwich – are any indication, local taxpayers could be on the hook, he suggests.
Either way, region residents will be picking up the tab for operating losses running into millions of dollars each year. And we’ll pay for the hundreds of millions in necessary infrastructure upgrades. There’s nothing free about any of this.
The pitfalls of the LRT will be front and center Nov. 5 when Taxpayers for Sensible Transit host a meeting with former Ottawa-Carleton regional chairman Andy Haydon, who was involved with that city’s debate over trains versus buses. Information and the group’s petition can be found online at www.t4st.com.