Regional Committee approves contract for LRT

Graphic by Lena Yang.
Graphic by Lena Yang.

GrandLinq gets the nod for on budget proposal

H.G. Watson

Light rail transit in Waterloo is one step closer to reality.

The Waterloo Regional Council Planning and Works committee passed a motion to award the contract for the design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the ION LRT phase one to the GrandLinq consortium Monday night.
“This is a great step forward,” said Regional Chair Ken Seiling.

City staff recommended GrandLinq’s proposal, which estimated construction costs of $532.1 million, because in came in on budget and within the constraints of the region’s funding strategy.

But tensions surrounding ION are as fresh as ever. Four councillors – Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran, Jean Haalboom and Claudette Millar – voted in opposition to the plan.

Craig told council members that he believes that the project has made Cambridge residents feel isolated and angry, to the point where some believe that Cambridge should no longer be a part of the region.

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Craig. “Nobody around the table really picks up on the comments. They think they can be dismissive of us.”

His opposition stems from the fact that Cambridge will not get LRT under phase one of the plan. However, they are slated to have improved bus service and phase two would see ION extended into downtown Cambridge.

And as the committee debated, another opponent made their voice heard. Jay Assai, a Waterloo business owner who also leads the anti-LRT group Stop the Light Rail, served Regional Council with a notice that his group intends to seek an injunction against the project earlier in the day.

They claim that the project violates section 24 of the Planning Act, which prohibits public work while an official plan is in place. Assai said in a press release that the LRT project does not conform to the Regional Official Plan, which was set in place in 2009.

But the threat of legal action did nothing to stop proceedings at council chambers Monday night. “We did an amendment a number of years ago to provide for this,” said Seiling. “So we think we’re in good shape.”

Opponents aside, the mood in council chambers after the vote passed was jubilant. Michael Druker, a representative of TriTAG, a local alternative transit advocacy group, was very pleased with the committee’s decision.

“It’s great that this is finally moving forward and we can go from planning to actual implementation,” said Druker. “We need this to be on time and on budget.”

Regional council will approve the recommendation on March 19. Given all the committee members also sit on council, it seems likely the motion will pass.