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Waterloo LRT on track, while second stage kicks into gear

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by Mary Baxter

As work continues on the first stage of the light rail transit (LRT) system that will serve the Waterloo Region, municipal officials are laying the groundwork to support the system’s second stage of development.
Waterloo LRT on track, while second stage kicks into gear

Councillor Tom Galloway, chair of the Waterloo Region planning and works committee, said the second stage will extend the first stage of rail corridor into Cambridge from Kitchener.

The second stage is undergoing an environmental assessment but is at least three to four years away from construction and perhaps even longer depending on financing, he said.

"It may not take quite as long (as the decade it took to firm up financing for stage one) because there seems to be a fair bit more money for transit infrastructure at this point," he added.

Galloway pointed to recent provincial and federal government infrastructure and public transit funding programs.

Waterloo Region officials anticipate finalizing the preferred route later this year.

According to the region's rapid transit project website, the preferred route will be presented at a September public meeting.

The business case for the project's second stage is scheduled for completion in late fall. Galloway said the consortium undertaking the first stage of the system, GrandLinq, has expressed interest in undertaking the next stage. However, stage two "will still have to be put out for RFP, proposals and tenders and so on," he said.

The GrandLinq consortium includes: Plenary Group (developer), Meridiam Infrastructure (financer), Aecon (general contractor), Kiewit (engineer) and Keolis (transport operator).

GrandLinq won the 30-year contract to develop and operate the first stage of the region's rapid transit system in 2014. The 19-kilometre, 13-station light rail transit system will run on a central transit corridor between north Waterloo and south Kitchener. Adding rapid bus transit between south Kitchener and the Galt area of Cambridge is also part of the first stage.

Galloway said one of the purposes of building the system was to motivate residential development along the system's route. The municipality wants to create the capacity to accommodate 350,000 new residents in the region by 2031.

The region is already well on the way to reaching that goal, he said.

"I didn't think it was going to happen so quickly," Galloway explained. "But we have had so many properties bought up by developers along the route, projects underway, many projects in the planning stage, and we're still well over a year away from fare service."

Galloway said GrandLinq's contract makes up $500 million of the $818-million budget for stage one. The remaining $318 million covers costs such as land acquisition and engineering.

In July, most of the entire 19 kilometres of light rail track was under construction.

"Some sections have been restored and are back with traffic," said Galloway.

He said the municipality delayed about four other projects on its 10-year capital forecast list that were slated to be addressed this year and next. The decision was taken to prevent overwhelming the public with construction. The money will be redirected to other projects.

Stage one is progressing well in terms of construction, he said. Most of the time and effort involves relocating underground services.

"All the underground utilities are being moved out of the track right-of-way so if there are future issues with water or sewer or sanitary or communication utilities, they won't need to dig up the right-of-way to make a correction," he said.

A delay in the delivery of trains from Bombardier Inc. has postponed the launch of stage one to early 2018 instead of late 2017.

Construction has also fallen behind the original schedule but room had been built in for those types of delays, Galloway added.

"There is a big push this summer to progress much of the required work and we will have a better sense of our accomplishments" at the end of September or early October, said Avril Fisken, Aecom and GrandLinq spokesperson, in a July email.

Despite delays the project is tracking on budget, Galloway said, but described the delay of the Bombardier trains as a "big" question mark.

"We do have liquidated damages to look at in terms of the Bombardier contract," Galloway said. The terms address the ability to recoup money for costs the municipality might incur because of delays.

"We haven't sought them at this point in time; we're working with Bombardier. But if there are costs we are going to incur, well then we will have to probably look at the liquidated damages in their contract too," he said.

The agreement includes the right of the municipality to levy $1,500 per day per vehicle up to a set limit.

By July the first phase was about 60 per cent complete, he said.

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