Regional council votes 'yes' on rapid transit plan
CTV Southwestern Ontario
Published Wednesday, June 15, 2011 10:42PM EDT
It was standing room only as councillors voted 9-2 in favour of rapid transit Wednesday night. It's the biggest project ever proposed by Waterloo Region and has been discussed for nearly ten years.
Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr offered his support, and calls the decision "clearly a defining moment" for Waterloo Region, while Councillor Sean Strickland also supported the motion, adding "We need to right-size the transit system from the onset."
In saying she was voting against the plan, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran told council "It's not what I believe our citizens want."
She says her constituents and especially local business owners are concerned about their ability to afford the rise in taxes that would come the proposed transit system.
Many councillors who spoke indicated that they had received thousands of emails from constituents, both in favour of, and against the rapid transit proposal, which helped them make their decisions.
Regional staff had remained firmly behind the proposed plan, which will see light rail trains (LRT) from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener and adapted bus rapid transit (aBRT) from there to the Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge.
The $818-million plan also includes improvements to Grand River Transit (GRT) bus service and ‘transit-supportive' strategies in Cambridge. LRT to Cambridge is included in the second phase of the proposed plan.
After the contributions from the federal and provincial governments, taxpayers in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge are on the hook for the remaining $253 million to fund the project.
The initial proposal to fund the rapid transit plan and improvements to GRT involved an annual property tax increase of 1.5 per cent per year for homeowners over seven years.
However, an amendment proposed by Councillor Jim Wideman was passed that cuts the tax increase to one per cent each year over seven years.
The difference is made up by re-allocating funds from budget savings due to the retirement of the debt on two regional buildings and the transfer of social assistance costs to the province.
Additional amendments proposed by Councillor Sean Strickland to consider re-routing the LRT in Uptown Waterloo and seek additional expertise from the province for implementation were also carried.
Only 11 councillors made the decision, while four declared a conflict of interest. Councillors Ken Seiling, Doug Craig, Tom Galloway and Rob Deutschmann abstained from the vote.
The nine councillors voting 'Yes' included: Carl Zehr (presented the motion), Sean Strickland (seconded the motion), Jane Mitchell, Les Armstrong, Geoff Lorentz, Todd Cowan, Jean Haalboom, Ross Kelterborn and Jim Wideman.
Councillor Jane Brewer submitted a letter in favour of rapid transit, but was absent from the vote.
Councillor Brenda Halloran voted 'no,' and Claudette Millar's vote was divided, yes on some sections of the plan, and no on others.