One year later: Looking back at the launch of the LRT
KITCHENER -- Sunday marks the first anniversary of the official launch of Light Rail Transit (LRT) in Waterloo Region, but it wasn’t always a smooth ride on the way to its debut.
At $868 million, it is the biggest and most expensive project in the region's history.
There were also a number controversial moments leading up to its launch, including delays and cost overruns.
In June of 2011, the LRT project was officially given the green light and residents got a glimpse at how much they would be on the hook for.
“About a one per cent per year tax rate increase each year for the next seven years,” said Mike Murray CAO in an interview with CTV News at the time.
With help from the provincial and federal government, Waterloo Region officials said the financial ask for the $818 million LRT wouldn't be much locally.
“The province of Ontario is committing $300 million,” said former premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne in speech in June 2010.
“We will cover one-third of eligible costs,” committed former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a speech in September 2010.
Upper levels of government hopped on board the project, promising to cover a total of two-thirds of the bill.
Still some residents, particularly those living in Cambridge, felt railroaded into the project that was to operate between Waterloo and Kitchener.
“I am the mayor of the second largest city in this region and I’m fed up with being treated this way. So are my citizens,” said former Cambridge mayor Doug Craig at the time.
As the original decision makers left regional council, or were voted out, only four councillors saw it through.
While the LRT was a ballot issue in every election, politicians pushed forward with the vision.
A deal with Bombardier, as well as some construction overruns, pushed the price tag up another $50 million.
“We would acknowledge that at the outset, at the original $818 million, we went with an extremely small construction contingency,” said Craig Dyer, the chief financial officer for the Region of Waterloo in an interview with CTV News.
The province ended up picking up half the cost overrun.
Months of delays turned into years, with a fall 2017 start that turned into spring 2019 launch.
The biggest sticking point in the years leading up to service was the financial impact.
Breaking it down by year, it was between a one and 1.5 per cent increase on property tax bills.
Added up after seven years, Waterloo Region property owners paid $597 before they were able to board.
The LRT now travels between Conestoga station in Waterloo and Fairway station in Kitchener, with 19 stations along the route.
The region is still working on stage two to extend the LRT from Kitchener to Cambridge.
The preliminary designs for the second phase show an 18-kilometre line with eight stops in the two cities.