Not long ago, five million dollars seemed like an awful lot of money... after all, that $5M debt has restricted city spending across the board for many years and it will restrict spending for many years to come. Sports, arts, community programs, children's programs, parks... everything has taken a hit because of that RIM Park debt.
But now that LRT is on the table, a $5M debt is laughable. When the Region builds a rail route through Waterloo, the city of Waterloo is going to have to pay many times more than $5M just for downloaded capital costs. The Region expects the municipalities to pony up for:
- Building parking garages next to LRT stations
- Resurfacing roads torn up by LRT construction
- Moving hydro vaults, utility poles, lamp posts, fire plugs as needed for LRT
- Rebuilding curbs and sidewalks torn up by LRT
- And who knows what else...
But wait, there's more! Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig has estimated that LRT will cost $23M per year in operating costs, all of which will be paid by regional taxpayers. Yes, that's right: that crippling RIM Park debt that it's taking Waterloo decades to pay off - Waterloo taxpayers' portion of LRT operating costs will be more than that every year... forever!
All that is in addition to increased regional taxes to pay the roughly $500M that will be the Region's portion of LRT construction costs.
Then there's the rest of the region's Master Transportation Plan, which staff estimate will cost $3.75B (yes, that's billion) over 20 years.
When I write about LRT, I tend to focus on problems with the route, inconvenience, inaccurate ridership projections, inability to meet stated goals, and things along those lines.
But cost is also a vital element of all this.
Here's one scenario that's looking pretty realistic about now: Taxes are going to rise so much in Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge that, far from creating flourishing downtown cores, LRT will cause masses of people to move out to the townships (which won't pay into LRT and so will have much lower taxes) and commute long distances on area highways.
Having LRT tracks running through our commercial corridor, combined with the need to run buses on the same routes because LRT stops so infrequently, will result in so much congestion that everyone will avoid the core like the plague.
The LRT won't be empty though; it will be full of University of Waterloo students who use it as a student shuttle to zip past the empty storefronts.