GrandLinq chosen for the Region’s light rail system

(File photo by Ryan Hueglin)
(File photo by Ryan Hueglin)

Construction plans for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) in Waterloo Region are in motion.

A $532 million bid proposed by the consortium GrandLinq to build, design and construct the coming LRT—known as ION —was approved at a meeting of regional council’s planning and works committee on Tuesday.

Council has not yet ratified the decision.

An additional $901 million is allocated for operating and maintaining the train line for the duration of the 30-year contract. The provincial government is also contributing $300 million while the federal government is adding $265 million to the project.

Altogether this brings the final numbers to a $1.9 billion project for the Region of Waterloo to finance over the next 30 years.

“This is a great step forward,” said regional chair Ken Seiling.

The cost-effective proposal, which fit comfortably within the $818 million capital budget allocated for LRT, was deemed a success by councillors.

“There was a scoring system made up of two components: technical and financial. GrandLinq had the highest technical scores and the lowest costs,” said regional councillor Tom Galloway.

GrandLinq is a registered Ontario consortium. It consists of many different companies who have formed a partnership for the Region of Waterloo LRT project. These companies include Aecon, Canada’s largest publicly-traded construction company, infrastructure investor Meridiam and a popular global transit operator, Keolis.

Galloway described the group as having “extensive experience in public transit and other projects around Canada and the world.”

However, tensions surrounding ION emerged upon the decision.         Four councillors —Cambridge mayor Doug Craig and Waterloo mayor Brenda Halloran, as well as regional councillors Jean Haalboom and Claudette Millar — voted in opposition to the LRT contract.

Craig told council members that he believes that the project has made Cambridge residents feel isolated and angry, to the point where some believe that Cambridge should no longer be a part of the Region.

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Craig. “Nobody around the table really picks up on the comments. They think they can be dismissive of us.”

His opposition stems from the fact that Cambridge will not get LRT under phase one of the plan. However, they are slated to have improved bus service and phase two would see ION extended into downtown Cambridge.

A press release detailing an impending lawsuit against the Region over the LRT was also issued on Tuesday. Stop Light Rail, a group led by a Waterloo business, announced its intention to seek an injunction to stop any work affiliated with the LRT. The group has gathered more than 2,400 signatures on an online petition to stop a LRT from coming to the region.

However, regional council sees the LRT decision in a more positive light.

“The contract that council [considered] today fits within the $818 million capital cost that was developed in 2011,” said Region of Waterloo chief financial officer (CFO), Craig Dyer.

“Put another way, we’re currently on budget.”

With the conformation of GrandLinq as the builder and operator of the Region of Waterloo’s LRT system, the Region can soon start move forward, making concrete moves towards construction.

The regional council will be asked to make a final selection for builder/operator on Mar. 19. Utility work and other project will begin as early as September of this year. Actual construction will commence in 2015.

“Most of the land we needed has been acquired, and utilities have been getting relocated along King Street,” said Galloway.

King St. will be closed to facilitated construction in the midtown area all the way to Kitchener’s north end. It will likely be closed for eight months.

“We’re very pleased to see that the bidding process has been successful,” said Tim Mollison of the transportation advocacy group TriTAG.

“It looks like it will come in on budget and on time, and we really look forward to the opening of the LRT.”

All eyes are set on the grand opening of the Region of Waterloo’s LRT system in 2017. With many of the steps necessary to start actual rail construction completed, the construction process is expected to follow the schedule as planned.

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