Waterloo Region enters the early stages of its transit plan

Justin Smirlies
CCE CONTRIBUTOR

The Region of Waterloo is entering the early phases of the construction of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system that will connect the three main municipalities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge by 2017. Until the end of November, the region will accept requests from developers to determine who will design the approximately $800-million project.

“Through this process, we will identify up to three teams who then will be given the opportunity to bet on and request a proposal next year,” explained Darshpreet Bhatti, the director of the rapid transit division at the Region of Waterloo. “They will submit their submissions by the end of November, basically identifying their strengths in construction, design, operations, maintenance and finances.”

Those three potential candidates for the project will be chosen by the regional council in January. The team awarded with the contract and permission to go ahead with the project will be selected by council in the summer of 2014.

“Construction will likely be two to two and a half years. We anticipate and we’re aiming to have our revenue service and our system running itself by 2017,” Bhatti added.

The LRT system has been under debate since its first proposal back in 2009. According to Bhatti, the system will benefit the region – which has a population of about 500,000 people – in two ways: improved transportation and more efficient land use and growth management.

By focusing the growth of the region in already built-up areas, the environment and green space of the region will be maintained, Bhatti said.

“We want to protect our countryside, to maintain a good environment of this region for now and also in the future,” he continued. “Once you have that intensification coming in built-up areas you’ll have to provide options and opportunities for people so they’re able travel from an origin to their destination.”

Regional council approved the route of the LRT back in June 2011, but the devel

opment team chosen for the project will make slight adjustments. The set route and station locations, however, can’t be tweaked by the developers.

In addition, about eight kilometres of the route will be on existing railways and hydro corridors, therefore minimizing the impact on city streets. Bhatti noted that the rail system will be either in the middle or the curb side of the road, but road-widening will take place if required.

In the past, some opposition to the LRT  has arisen, notably from the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. While Cambridge will not be involved until the latter stages of the construction, the city’s representation on council approved the project last year.

But small business owners, like David Worsley, the co-owner of Wordsworth Books in Uptown Waterloo, are also voicing concerns.

“You’ll have to look at it from two perspectives: as a citizen, I think it’s a no-brainer that we have to reduce our carbon footprint,” Worsely explained. “As an owner of a business that is directly going to be affected by LRT, it’s going to be problematic.”

As a result of the LRT construction, small businesses that are directly affected by the rail will see an increase in their commercial rent. Worsely is no exception as a train will pass right in front of where Wordsworth Books is located on King Street.

“So commercial rent, all the way up to University [Avenue] really, is going up in a big, big way,” he said. “That doesn’t come into question if LRT is a good idea or not.”

Worsley added that the support for the project, in his own eyes, has been rather minimal. Even though the construction won’t be completed until 2017, Worsley and other business owners will be affected throughout the whole process.

“As a business owner, I’m worried about it,” Worsley admitted.