Regional Updates

Much of note was approved at last week’s Waterloo Regional Council meeting and at the one before that. Details for most items are available in the Planning & Works agendas and minutes for January 10 and 31.

Council decided to pursue a 30-year design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) public-private partnership (P3) for the first phase of the LRT project. At the public meeting, many delegations spoke against such a decision and its basis, while only the Greater K-W Chamber of Commerce spoke in support. Staff will be bringing back a report to Council on options for the length of the operating contract.

Urban Strategies was selected as the consultant to develop a Central Transit Corridor Development Strategy. This kind of explicit connection between transit, land use / intensification, and place-making is crucial to the success of the LRT line and to the Region’s goals of guiding growth to urban core areas.

Final approval was given to the Grand River Transit 2011-2014 business plan. It includes a plan for small service increases and realignments which are not ambitious enough to substantially improve the quality of the GRT network. However, new express routes from the promised iXpress network are to be rolled out every other year, with the University Avenue line coming next year. Instead of focusing on improving GRT’s route efficiency or ridership, the business plan includes yearly fare increases of 5-9% to reach an arbitrary 50% farebox recovery figure. U-Pass fees are also to be increased. There is some talk of providing new service to the townships at their own cost.

The plan includes as a focus the implementation of a smart card fare system, very likely based on Presto — which was given approval in this year’s Regional Budget for implementation by 2013. Interestingly, the GRT Business Plan also includes direction to work with other agencies and municipalities to improve inter-city transit and perhaps initiate new links — see below as well.

The Region provided comments to the MTO regarding the planned widening of Highway 401 from 6 lanes to 10 lanes between Hespeler and Halton. Instead of supporting the widening, Waterloo Region supports reserving the 10-lane-wide corridor and focusing on increased GO rail service to Kitchener and Cambridge prior to any highway widening. From the report: “Implementing rail service in advance of highway expansions will help to establish ridership patterns, improve the viability of rail services and delay future highway expansions.” The Region also is interested in retrofitting the Hespeler Rd and Franklin Blvd interchanges ASAP to make them accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. (Currently, the 401 is a major barrier to travel on foot or by bike to or from Hespeler.)

An alignment was approved for a Spur Line Multi-Use Trail between Waterloo and Kitchener alongside the existing rail corridor. The recommendation is for an asphalt multi-use trail on the north side of the tracks, except for the portion near uptown Waterloo. The trail would be cut short at Regina Street in Waterloo and at Wilhelm Street in Kitchener, leaving it rather disconnected on both ends. Lighting along the trail is recommended, but “subject to the availability of funding.” Construction cost is estimated at $2.5m, with lighting an additional $1.0m. The next step is detailed design, but construction will depend on funding.

Last month the Region of Waterloo initiated an inter-regional transportation planning study, in partnership with the MTO, the City of Guelph, the City of Brantford, Brant County, and Wellington County. This will initially be focused on several surveys of different types. It isn’t clear what kind of new transportation links may be on the table, but this could be a good start to developing inter-city transit between Kitchener and Guelph, and along the Highway 24 corridor between Guelph, Cambridge, and Brantford.

At the January 10 meeting of Planning & Works, Council approved a report making clear its interest in improved rail links to Kitchener and Cambridge. Specifically, in response to the recently released Federal-Provincial HSR feasibility study, Waterloo Region indicates its interest in being part of any future high-speed rail line on the Quebec City – Windsor corridor. The report notes that “the Toronto-Kitchener travel market has the highest overall forecasted travel demand of any market estimated by the study”.