Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to town yesterday and helped to derail light rail in Kitchener-Waterloo.
I’ve been holding my fire on this huge issue until I found out how much Harper’s minority federal government would commit to the overpriced proposal.
And, as I always suspected, both the federal and provincial governments have failed to come up with enough cash to make light-rail transit a viable option in Waterloo Region.
To date, the provincial government — cutting back on its original cash pledge — has promised $300 million while the federal government is now offering $265 million.
This means we’re now looking at a very distasteful situation where, in order for electric trains to run, local taxpayers will have to cough up a staggering $235 million. That means the average homeowner would be stuck with a totally unacceptable property tax hike of between eight and 10 per cent.
The current scheme, planned to start in 2015, would see electric trains operating on raised, segregated tracks between Waterloo’s Conestoga Mall and Fairview Park mall in Kitchener. Trains would be linked to a rapid bus service to Cambridge.
Even though light rail is s a regional council responsibility, voters have been asking me about the plan as I canvas Ward 9 neighbourhoods. And while I like the green, environmentally friendly light-rail plan, I completely oppose and reject any scheme where local taxpayers will have to shoulder such enormous debt.
Total cost of light rail would be at least $800 million and, knowing what happens to such projects, it’s very likely to end up topping $1 billion.
Instead of sticking local taxpayers with that $235 million bill, we should forget about light rail and use the money from senior levels of government to upgrade and streamline rapid bus service throughout Waterloo Region with special emphasis on Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. That plan would cost about $585 million.
We can’t afford light rail.