Light rail coming to Waterloo Region

Well Waterloo Region, you’ve got yourself a train. A vote on June 15 concluded a lengthy and emotional eight-year journey discussing future transit options with the decision of Waterloo’s Regional Council to implement Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The vote passed with nine in favour, four abstentions and two in opposition, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran and Cambridge councillor Claudette Millar.

Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr was “elated” by the long-anticipated result. “While not unanimous, it is overwhelming,” he commented following the vote. “This takes this region to a new level in terms of the kind of momentum we had and how we are even seen by this country and in the world.”

Support for LRT came from a variety of realms. Allegedly lessened environmental impact, reducing urban sprawl and preparing for future growth were several commonly cited reasons to implement the project.

“It’s great to see them not just looking at the short-term political games, but for the future of our Region,” acknowledged Mike Boos, a citizen of Waterloo Region who attended the Council meeting. “And as someone who’s going to be starting a family here in Waterloo Region, [I’m] very much looking forward to the future.”

Many councillors were in concurrence about planning a transit system to benefit not themselves, but their children and grandchildren in the future.

Despite the unpopularity of her stance, Mayor Halloran remained staunchly in opposition to a belief in the superiority of the benefits of LRT.

“It would have been easy to drink the Kool Aid and be with the team, but I’m speaking on behalf of my citizens and that’s my job,” Halloran said. This perception of the population’s desires stemmed from last fall’s door-to-door campaign, where Halloran claimed to find many concerned about a future with LRT.

“I think there’s a vast confusion in the community about what LRT is,” she explained. “I’ve had people say to me, well it’s a Go train to Toronto, or it’s going to help my commute out to the 401.”

While there were numerous opportunities provided by the Region for citizens to become involved and hopefully informed, the wealth of information accompanying the rapid transit debate may translated into comprehensive awareness. Halloran also noted the cost to taxpayers as a reason for her vote.

“I’m just being very, very cognizant of the impact of citizens and what they want,” said Halloran in defence. “I’m staying true to my pledge.”

Although not all were pleased with the outcome, the overall mood was one of relief and positivity following the vote.

“Today … we have the opportunity to seize and create that defining moment, to think outside of the box, to have a vision for what could be instead of what it,” Regional Chair Jim Wideman concluded.

While there is still much planning and fine detail to be accomplished, the Region must now set aside differences in acknowledgement of the decision, and collectively move forward to create an LRT that will ideally benefit future generations for decades to come.