Politicians gather for groundbreaking of Waterloo's light rail project
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Rarely are politicians so excited about a mountain of dirt.
But a mountain of dirt was more than just that Thursday at a ceremonial groundbreaking for Ion, the region’s light rail project.
Towering over Region of Waterloo politicians at 518 Dutton Dr., with tufts of weeds scattered on it, that pile of dirt represented more than a decade of preparation and politicians’ vision for a transportation system to curb urban sprawl and move people.
Regional Coun. Jim Wideman said it was symbolic and added that watching the actual construction of light rail will be different than other building projects.
“Other than when you go underground, the construction of the LRT is going to be quite innocuous,” Wideman said of the project.
“It’s not something rising up in the sky.” The Dutton Drive site will serve as a maintenance and service centre, also providing storage for light rail trains when they’re not in operation.
A crowd of politicians and local residents were on hand to hear officials marvel at the project.
“It is critical public infrastructure that will be a legacy for future generations,” said Peter Braid, MP for Kitchener-Waterloo.
The federal government is kicking in up to $265 million to build the system and the provincial government up to $300 million.
“Our government believes in building Waterloo Region up and that’s why we’ve committed up to $300 million to support the new Ion LRT,” said provincial Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.
The region’s rapid transit project is expected to cost about $1.9 billion to design, build, finance, operate and maintain over 30 years. About $818 million has been budgeted to build it.
The plan was first conceived in the 1970s, but its current incarnation was unveiled by regional planners in 2002 as a way to curb urban sprawl.
“That’s why we are a successful community,” said Regional Chair Ken Seiling. “This region has always looked ahead.”
Construction is already underway including utility relocations and grading at the maintenance and service centre. Work on city streets that will affect traffic starts this month.
Light rail trains are expected to start running on 19 kilometres of track from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park mall in Kitchener in 2017.
Wideman appealed to officials from Grand-Linq, the construction consortium awarded the light rail contract, to put the interests of residents first, saying they are the clients.
“The single most important thing that you and your staff can do every day is to listen to the people who are impacted along the route,” Wideman said.
Michael O’Neill, general manager of Grand-Linq, said there will be challenges, particularly while city streets are torn up to move underground infrastructure later this year ahead of track being put down in 2015.
He committed to working with the community.
“Those people whose lives we touch during construction matter to us,” O’Neill said.