LRT critic speaks out about opposition to transit system

Photo by Ryan Hueglin
Photo by Ryan Hueglin

With one week to go before the March 19 regional council meeting that will likely confirm GrandLinq as the builder and operator of Light Rail Transit, doubts still exist concerning the future of the project.

A Waterloo-based citizens’ group concerned with the very existence of the LRT project, Stop Light Rail, has called for the review of the program before council signs contracts to begin construction.

Jay Aissa, owner of a local fencing company, is the man behind Stop Light Rail. Aissa explained that his frustration with LRT started when he went to the Region to discuss how the tracks will affect his work trucks from getting in and out of his business. Aissa then decided to look further into the LRT project, and found issues with both the logic behind LRT in general, and the project’s financing.

“As I started digging into it, I realized this was more than my problem — this is the Region’s problem. We’re going to go borrow all this money for something we may not need,” said Aissa.

For instance, Stop Light Rail has questioned the projections that LRT is based upon, such as the assertion that the Region of Waterloo’s population will rise to over 700,000 people by 2031. The group has also criticized the financial projections, claiming that the typical public light rail project is, on average, 40 per cent over budget.

Aissa’s main argument is that the Region is basing its future projections for ridership on RIM, the struggling tech giant, being around.

“We’ve lost our biggest employer in the area,” said Aissa. “They’re calculating everything based on RIM’s former growth, and now that RIM is gone, the numbers are different.”

The Region insists that the budget for the LRT project is under control and that projections have taken concerns about the future into consideration. With a March 5 meeting confirming the construction conglomerate GrandLinq as the top bidder to build the LRT and a March 19 meeting expected to finalize GrandLinq as the builder, the project is anticipated to keep on schedule.

“At this point we don’t see the project going over budget,” said Region of Waterloo CFO Craig Dyer. “Based on actions that council has taken to date, they have every expectation that the LRT will proceed.”

The group’s main concern is the borrowing that must occur to build the region’s LRT system. The Region has already factored in about $105 million. Aissa is concerned about the possibility of going over budget and borrowing extra, which he believes will justify another tax increase.

“If they don’t make the budget, all they are going to do is raise taxes,” said Aissa. “They look at the funding as free money. This is not free money; this is from the taxpayer’s pocket. Whether it’s federal, provincial, regional, it’s not free money.”

The Region of Waterloo’s LRT system is well on its way to being built. With final meetings occurring in the next few weeks to sign construction contracts, it is hard to imagine that the project will be halted.

“We should reach financial close by April, and from that point on then, we have a legally binding agreement with GrandLinq to build the system, and maintain it for 30 years,” said Regional Councilor Tom Galloway. “It’s a bit late in the process for people to be suggesting some changes.”

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