Waterloo Region’s urban residents face a tax hike of some 10 per cent over the next seven years to pay for transit, including the light-rail scheme approved Wednesday by regional council.
Electric trains on dedicated lines linking Conestoga Mall in Waterloo and Fairview Park mall in Kitchener should be running by 2017. Fast buses will connect the Kitchener mall with the bus terminal in Galt. The plan will cost $818 million in direct costs, $565 million of which will come from the provincial and federal governments, leaving regional taxpayers on the hook for $253 million, plus ancillary costs including road improvements.
Tax increases are to be phased in between 2012 and 2018, by which time the average homeowner will be paying an additional $113 a year in property taxes, based on an assessment of $254,000.
Councillors voted 9-2 in favour of the project. Only Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran and Cambridge Coun. Claudette Millar voted against the proposal, with four members declaring a conflict and abstaining from the process. Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan and Wellesley’s Ross Kelterborn both supported the move, though taxpayers in the four townships won’t be hit with the costs.
Cowan said public response, including a survey on the township website, was more than 85 per cent in favour of transit, with about 68 per cent supporting the LRT option.
“I said I would go with what the public was saying on the issue,” he explained of his vote.
For Kelterborn, the decision came down to what he sees as a benefit for the region as a whole, even though there’s no direct impact on Wellesley.
“I said I would do what I thought was best for the Region of Waterloo, and the LRT was the best option for the region,” he said Thursday, noting he didn’t make a final decision until Wednesday night’s discussion.
Given growth forecasts, transit will eventually become a viable option for residents, he noted, adding the idea of preserving land in the township was a factor in his choice.
The plan calls for trains running every 7.5 to 15 minutes in dedicated lanes, with up to 18 stops between the two malls. Covering 19 kilometres each way is expected to take about 40 minutes.