Ward 9 voters and light rail

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.

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6 Responses to Ward 9 voters and light rail

  1. So is it the debt that you don’t like, or a single-year property tax hike? I don’t know why anyone is even talking about the latter, as that isn’t even on the table for large capital projects like this. It would only make sense if we’re going to be building that much light rail every year.

    On the other hand, if the expense is to be paid off over 20 years, for example, taxes might have to go up by $50 per person per year. I don’t think that’s a staggering figure, considering the project’s benefits.

    I would hope that as a community we are able to invest in more than a couple of years of our future at a time.

  2. Frank Etherington says:

    I don’t like the ongoing debt and the fact the estimated $790-million pricetag will almost certainly top $1 billion.
    I also don’t like any suggestion I would be paying an additional $50 taxes a year for 20 or more years to cover those costs.
    Talking to hundreds of taxpayers on doorsteps, I haven’t met a single person willing to pay for light rail despite the project’s environmental benefits.

  3. Lisa Harmey says:

    I’m going to chip in, I meant to send a mail when this list of issues was likely being put together. What about real transit? I’m not talking about a local scheme designed to manipulate urban growth, I’m talking about 450,000 people existing without regular convenient access to the other towns and cities of the area? For years now – if I have to listen to another worthy local institution talking about its international ambitions when the people in to this location can’t even get around, I’ll …. Looks like I’m going to get a handy trip to a mall I rarely use, before I can get to Toronto/Hamilton/London! Then there’s the waste of it, 2 cars in the driveway for Ontario and a train for downtown Kitchener!

    • Frank Etherington says:

      Excellent comments.
      And don’t get me into the fact we still can’t get easily accessible and regular public transit from Pearson International Airport to downtown Toronto or anywhere in Waterloo Region.

  4. Jerry Stefanchuk says:

    Frank
    Rail is not for me, there wouldn’t be any benefit out of light rail. There must have been some sort of study done on the project. Who and how many would use it, and what stretches of rail would be the busiest? Who prepared the study and why isn’t there any publicity about it? What will these trains look like? Will the line be elevated? How many cars and how often will it run. And very importantly what will be the annual additional cost to the taxpayer to operate and maintain this system? How many millions?

    On a different subject, the City should absolutely not be in the real estate business. They are competing against Landlords who pay their fair share of taxes and is the City concerned? Of course not, they are able to keep buildings vacant indefinately at the Taxpayer’s expense. Six years and counting at the market square. It certainly is not a level playing field.

    Jerry

    • Frank Etherington says:

      Jerry:
      Good points.
      Best place to answer your questions on light rail is on the Waterloo Region light transit site. There was considerable publicity about the original announcement, route, type of trains etc when it was first discussed. Also suggest The Record website (linked from my website) for more information since the original announcement.
      On your second issue, there are times when any municipality has to be involved in purchase and sale of real estate but, obviously, it’s unwise for a city to sit on vacant buildings for so long.

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