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.”

6 Comments

  1. What’s in it for Mr. Galloway ?

  2. Mr. Sieling, Regional chair on Newstalk 570 AM at 10:35 this morning.

  3. What’s in it for Jay Aissa?

  4. What’s in it for Sieling?

  5. Kitchener people just aren’t being told that the 18 kilometers is only a fraction of the entire project. If you’ve ever heard “The Big Move” or been following any transit issues in Toronto it is all part of the same project. One has to read the Toronto Sun or Star newspapers to get a better understanding of the whole project. The Kitchener to Waterloo LRT is only a fraction of the entire project. The final project is 700 kilometers of track. Toronto is looking to borrow 25 BILLION over the next 25 years to pay for their 35 kilometer portion so how many Billions is Kitchener/Waterloo section going to cost. I would suggest everyone to go to the Metrolinx webpage and look at the entire project. Today Cambridge will pay for the KW portion of the LRT and in years to come Kitchener will pay for the Cambridge portion.
    Since Metrolinx is a provincial corporation they will eventually own the whole project. When the $800 million is gone that is earmarked for KW then Metrolinx will swoop in and take over the project. According to the paper last week $250 million has already been spent and the tracks aren’t even started. I suspect that all the expropriatons of land that have taken place were paid for by money earmarked for the tracks. The region is already tendering the contract for the LRT for $1.6 billion, already double what we have been told the last few years. The actual rail cars haven’t even been included in any calculation. According to Bombardier or Lavalin webpages the cost of rail cars at today’s prices is $150 million for every set of 24 cars. How many will be needed for 700 kilometers of track? When the vote was made to go ahead most regional councillors and their families were the ones making the money for many properties that were expropriated. I wonder if anyone else is interested to know exactly how much profit each councillor made for their properties.
    When the economy is going well then a huge project like the LRT through southern Ontario may make sense. But today when the local governments and especially Ontario is in such debt does a transit plan like this make sense? There is a provincial plan to close all group homes for children but the train must go on. The next local and provincial elections are coming up. The Cambridge mayor already said last week that the LRT should be an election issue. The premier already said she won’t use public money to fund the LRT. Do you believe that? The top idea is to raise our gas prices by 10 cents. Alot of people in Ontario are going to be paying for this train that they may never use.

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