Light Rail Transit

After the Waterloo City Council approved plans for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in June of 2009 that would link many popular destinations in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, funding from both levels of government has finally been pledged.

On June 28 of this year, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that the government would be providing the region with $300 million for the LRT project.

Earlier this month on Sept. 2, the federal government announced that they would provide one-third of the proposed cost of the project.

During a brief visit to the region, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged $265 million in funding for the development of Light Rail Transit.

“[It] is a lot of money to come into this region from the two levels of government so we need to take some time over the next couple of months and look at what we’ve proposed as our first phase,” said Waterloo regional chair Ken Seiling.

Despite the $565 million in funding from both levels of government, monetary support still falls short of the total cost of Stage 1 of the project, which would see light rail services from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Place Mall and rapid bus services to Cambridge’s Ainslie Street Bus Terminal.

“That is something that regional council will have to address,” said Nancy Button, director of rapid transit for the Region of Waterloo.

“We’ll have to look at what is the best way we can use the money that’s been committed, what’s the best project and how much can the region fund.”

Having approved the entire LRT system but having the project executed in stages, there is the possibility that the first phase will be altered slightly to accommodate final funding totals, though a decision has yet to be made.

“There are certainly some design elements, some alternatives that have to be looked at and we will take a look,” said Seiling. “It’s a combination of looking at what’s feasible and plus looking at what’s feasible financially.”

Button continued the project has experienced some delays in part because of a need for a transit project assessment, which would examine the impacts of the project on factors such as the environment, nature, economics and the KW population.

LRT was approved for the region in an attempt to prepare for the region’s projected population growth of over 200,000 by 2031.

LRT will be used to restrain urban sprawl, save farmland and restrict the use of automobiles.

“Our road system cannot accommodate that kind of a population growth with vehicles; we can’t physically build all the roads that would be necessary or widen them necessarily,” said Seiling, who commented that KW hopes to avoid the gridlock that plagues many communities in the greater Toronto area.

Construction is expected to begin in 2013 with light rail operations beginning in 2016.
“We have a fair amount of work to do before we put a shovel in the ground,” said Button.

LRT facts

  • Stage 1 of the approved rapid transit route includes Light Rail Transit running from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener, much like the iExpress buses that currently run.

  • Stage 1 will also include an adapted Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) from Fairview Park Mall to the Ainslie Street Transit Terminal in Cambridge.

  • This bus network will be altered during Stage 2 to Light Rail Transit which will run from Fairview Park Mall to the Ainslie Street Transit Terminal in Cambridge.

  • The approved rapid transit system will cost an estimated $790 million plus an additional $1 million each year for the next decade to build transit ridership in Cambridge.

  • Once completed, the Light Rail Transit system will have stops at the University of Waterloo and one near Wilfrid Laurier University.

-All information provided by the Waterloo Region’s rapid transit website.

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