Hamilton Mayor Fred Eissenberger's LRT communications strategy is underway. He is using social media posts to the public to promote the project, and meeting individually with Councillors in an attempt to save the project.
The following email to Council was distributed by the Mayor's Office to public communication lists at 12:04pm today.
I would like to take this opportunity to update you on my visit to the Waterloo Region’s LRT open this past Saturday.
As I arrived at the LRT’s maintenance and storage facility in Waterloo, I could not help but be impressed by the crowd of more than 1,000 people who lined up to see the LRT car and inspect the first LRT car firsthand. There were literally people of all ages on hand, from small children to seniors.
I was greeted at the open house by Ken Seiling, Waterloo Region’s chair. He explained to me that Waterloo Region has branded its LRT with the name ION. GrandLinq is the Region’s public-private partner, which will design, build, finance, operate and maintain ION over the next 30 years.
The capital cost of their LRT is $818 million and is funded by three levels of government: the Government of Ontario ($300 million), the Government of Canada ($265 million) and the Region of Waterloo ($253 million).
In other words, local tax payers are contributing directly to the capital cost of the project. As you know, this is in contrast to Hamilton’s LRT project, which is being funded 100 per cent by the Province.
It should come as no surprise that the very first thing any public official from Waterloo says to someone like me, from Hamilton, is how on earth did we convince the Province to pick up the entire capital cost of our project. I have to tell you, it is said with more than a little envy.
The LRT car itself is quite impressive, and – yes – it has that new car smell. It was made in Thunder Bay by Bombardier, and the balance of the 14 cars will be made in Kingston and delivered before the end of this year. It is longer than any street bus or street car, and is articulated in five segments. It can carry more than 200 people, and because it is not in traffic, the LRT comes frequently, with predictable regularity, so line ups of passengers will be cleared quickly.
By the way, the LRT fare will be fully integrated with Waterloo’s transit system. That is, passengers will pay the same fare whether they take a bus or an LRT, and transfers are free.
I was pleased to meet Tom Galloway, an elected councillor who is their chair of planning and public works committee.
An operator has been selected, Keolis, which is partnered with GrandLinq, and they are currently hiring. An operating agreement is in place, with an annual operating cost of $8 million per year.
However Tom, an accountant by training, said he is not at all concerned about what the operating costs land at because the LRT is already generating increased revenue through assessment growth and development charges resulting from new residential and commercial development all along the route.
I took the time to speak to several people who were in line to see the car. Some of them were LRT skeptics in the beginning but were turned into supporters based on the cost-benefit case. Even Tom confessed to be an early LRT skeptic but was convinced purely on the numbers. He is now their council’s political lead on the project.
After the open house I drove the entire 19-kilometre length of the LRT route from Waterloo to the south part of Kitchener. Much of the track is already completed although there is a stretch in downtown Kitchener that is still being worked on. I got out of my car several times to take a close look. Left-turns and U-turns are provided at specific signalized intersections. In the downtowns where there is a curbside rapid transit lane, traffic will be able to cross the LRT to get in and out of driveways. I was impressed by how nicely the tracks fitted in the streetscape as well as the modern-looking poles for the overhead lines that will power the LRT. I was also impressed by the construction cranes I saw along the route over new developments.
Of course, another huge aspect of the project is the replacement of the road and underground infrastructure. They literally found wooden and brick pipes over a hundred years old. As old as they are, they will not last forever, and as Tom said to me, you are going to be digging up the road and replacing all that sometime in the future. It is only a question of when and at what cost. Here in Hamilton, that infrastructure will be replaced and paid for by the Province as the LRT project advances. If there is no LRT, the underground infrastructure will still be replaced, but the cost would be paid by local taxpayers. It is terribly expensive, and I for one like the idea of the Province paying that under our LRT agreement.
What I have described here is phase one of Waterloo Region’s LRT project. They are already planning a phase two which will extend the LRT line from Kitchener to Cambridge extending the length from 19 kilometres to 37 kilometres. Waterloo Region’s population, currently at 535,000, is expected to grow by 200,000 over the next 20 years. As Tom Galloway said to me, you have to start somewhere, and the sooner you get building, the more you save, because building costs over time will only go up. So let’s get at it!
As I left Waterloo Region, I could not help but reflect on the similarities between our two communities. There was opposition to their project as well. But as the project progressed they overcame it. Now it is close to completion. As much as we love our neighbours in Waterloo Region, they are in many ways our competitors in terms of investment and the war for talent. If they can build an LRT successfully and reap all those rewards, I am confident that we can too.
I extend to all member of Council an invitation to visit the LRT facilities in Waterloo in the coming weeks for which I will make all the arrangements.