Delaying Waterfront LRT would cost billions in lost tax revenue, productivity: BIA report

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Call it Toronto’s forgotten transit line.

While council has officially endorsed the Waterfront LRT as one of its priority transit projects, talk of the proposed light-rail line along the city’s lakefront has consistently been drowned out by debates about more high-profile schemes such as the relief line or Scarborough subway extension.

Tim Kocur, head of the Waterfront BIA, is trying to rally support for an LRT on Queens Quay E.
Tim Kocur, head of the Waterfront BIA, is trying to rally support for an LRT on Queens Quay E.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

The Waterfront Business Improvement Area is hoping to change that. On Wednesday, the group is releasing an economic analysis it says shows the urgent need to move ahead with the line in the next few years.

“This is a huge opportunity to build transit first for a neighbourhood that is already growing but has even more growth potential. It’s truly staggering,” said Tim Kocur, executive director of the Waterfront BIA, which covers the lakeshore area bounded by Stadium Rd. and Yonge St.

The report was prepared for the BIA by Hatch, an engineering consultancy firm. It contemplates a seven-kilometre version of the Waterfront East LRT that would run between Union Station and Coxwell Ave., connecting downtown to the Port Lands and the Beach. Designs drafted by the city have the line running in a dedicated right-of-way along Queens Quay East from Bay St. to Parliament St.

The Waterfront East line would cost upwards of $1 billion, and is part of a larger $2-billion light-rail network that would stretch as far as Long Branch in the west. Some parts of the network are still in early design phases and, according to timelines presented to council, wouldn’t be complete until sometime after 2028. City staff are expected to provide an update on the project in the second quarter of this year.

The BIA report contends the Waterfront East LRT could be built as early as 2025, and compares that accelerated timeline to a worst-case scenario in which the project would be delayed until 2045.

It concludes that not building the route until then would cost $1.8 billion in lost productivity between 2025 and 2045. The delay would also cost more than $20 billion in foregone tax revenue to the city, provincial and federal governments.

The figures are based on projected waterfront development the report says would take place sooner if the line were built over the next six years.

Queens Quay East is already seeing significant construction, and the long-planned redevelopment of the Port Lands is expected to create a new commercial and residential hub almost equivalent in size of the existing downtown.

Sidewalk Labs, which is planning to build a high-tech test community on Quayside, has described the LRT as “critical to the future and success” of the project.

The BIA report claims moving forward the in-service date for the Waterfront East LRT would accelerate the creation of 19 million square feet of office space, 25,000 new housing units, and 1.3 million square feet of retail along the waterfront, which could support more than 135,000 new jobs and 67,000 residents.

Kocur conceded that much of the development would likely happen regardless of whether the LRT is built, but said without the transit line it wouldn’t happen as fast. He argued that by pairing new builds with new transit, the city has the opportunity to avoid repeating mistakes made in areas such as Liberty Village, where rampant development hasn’t been matched with new lines.

“This is a chance to build transit first as opposed to trying to catch up after the development has already happened,” he said.

Council voted in 2016 to designate the Waterfront LRT as one of the city’s priority projects eligible for federal funding, along with the relief line, Eglinton East LRT, and Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan.

Although the provincial and federal governments last year announced $9 billion in combined funding for Toronto transit projects, there is not yet a formal agreement to fund the Waterfront LRT.

City and provincial leaders have expended much more energy championing other projects council has endorsed, raising the possibility the waterfront project will be pushed to the back of the line.

Councillor Joe Cressy, who represents the ward that would cover much of the Waterfront East LRT route, said nothing should dislodge the relief line’s position as Toronto’s top transit priority.

But the councillor, who sits on the Waterfront BIA’s board, said that with the Port Lands development expected to start coming online over the next decade, the city can’t afford to wait to build transit to that area as well, and the clock is already ticking.

“We are building new commercial and residential neighbourhoods all along the waterfront east,” he said, and “the longer we wait to invest in transit the more productivity we’re losing.”

In the run-up to the June 2018 provincial election, the now-governing Progressive Conservatives were the only party not to make a specific pledge to fund the line.

Mike Winterburn, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, said Tuesday the province is aware the city is working on a final design for waterfront transit, but has not yet “formally requested provincial funding.”

“Should the province receive a funding request, the business case would be considered in the context of other provincial infrastructure and budget priorities.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Ottawa to get new LRT handover date on Thursday after RTG gets extension – Ottawa

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The consortium building Ottawa’s Confederation Line is expected to give the city a new date on Thursday for when it will hand over the delayed light rail transit line, after requesting an extension to come up with the new completion date.

The Rideau Transit Group (RTG) was supposed to provide the City of Ottawa with a new handover date for the $2.1-billion LRT line on Wednesday, Jan. 2, after blowing past two deadlines in 2018.


READ MORE:
No new deadline for Ottawa’s LRT in latest update from city

In a statement attributed to Michael Morgan, the city’s rail construction program director, the city said it granted the consortium a one-day extension.

“City staff will review the new date and respond to RTG. Staff will provide an update to Council following the review of the new RSA date,” the statement said.

Mayor Jim Watson and Transportation Manager John Manconi said in the fall that the Confederation Line will be in service by Mar. 31, 2019.

Once RTG hands the city the keys to the rail line, the municipality will need seven to 10 days to get the east-west Confederation train “into launch mode,” Manconi said in November.


READ MORE:
Launch of Ottawa’s LRT delayed until 2019

The original target date for the LRT’s completion was May 24, 2018. The city allowed the consortium to push that deadline to Nov. 2 without penalty.

Then, late last summer, RTG advised the city it wouldn’t make the November deadline, either. The city has penalized the consortium $1 million for the delay and said it would fine RTG another $1 million should it miss a third deadline.

In September, Watson said the city is prioritizing the safety of the 13-stop LRT system over meeting “a predetermined date in the calendar.”

WATCH: Sneak peek of the Ottawa LRT





The city is expected to report its recommendations for the winning bidders for Stage 2 of LRT — which will involve extensions to both the Confederation and Trillium lines — early this year.

In a year-end interview with Global News, Watson said in December the city hopes to have shovels in the ground for Stage 2 by the end of 2019.

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Ford government says it’s still undecided on future of $1.5-billion Mississauga LRT

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The Ontario PC government has confirmed to The Mississauga News that it remains undecided on the future of a planned LRT line down Hurontario St. that would connect the Port Credit GO station to the Gateway Terminal in Brampton.

Earlier on Tuesday, the opposition NDP issued a release stating it was concerned for the future of the $1.5 billion project, which was slated to be completed by 2022. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation responded to the NDP’s assertions in an emailed statement to The News a short time later.

An artist's rendering of a concept design for Mississauga’s Hurontario St. LRT project.
An artist’s rendering of a concept design for Mississauga’s Hurontario St. LRT project.  (Twitter/HurontarioLRT)

“We have to eliminate the inefficiencies of the previous Liberal government and make sure we invest in efficient and effective transit projects that achieve the best value for our customer — the Ontario taxpayer. Our decisions will be based on what is best for the people of the GTHA, including Peel Region,” said ministry press secretary Justine Lewkowicz when asked if the planned project was being considered for cancellation.

Read more:

LRT will completely transform Mississauga

NDP transit critic Jessica Bell took the government to task in question period on Tuesday after she said a recent meeting with the Ontario ministry of transportation didn’t inspire confidence in the Mississauga LRT line’s future.

“After a concerning meeting with ministry representatives where they refused to end rumours that the government is planning to cancel the planned Hurontario LRT and GO Electrification, I gave Doug Ford’s government another chance to set the record straight,” said Bell in the release.

“Instead of clearly saying that these projects are still on the Ford government’s agenda, the minister responded with vague platitudes that didn’t even reference the projects that I had clearly asked about,” she added.

While the Ford government didn’t say for certain it is looking at possibly cutting the project, it appears Bell’s concerns about such a possibility weren’t without merit.

Prior to the government’s response, Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie said earlier Tuesday she expects the project to move forward as planned and has great hopes for it.

“There has been no indication from the Ontario government that the project is not proceeding. Premier Ford committed to funding the Hurontario LRT and other transit projects during the provincial election campaign. I look forward to working with the premier and his government to move Mississauga forward and see through this transformative project which will create jobs and get people moving across Mississauga and the GTA,” she said.

The government said it will be discussing the matter with partners and stakeholders to determine the best way forward.

“Our Government for the People is committed to improving the transit experience across the GTHA to get people moving and make life easier for Ontarians. We are determined to deliver a modern transit system that will serve the region’s growing communities, drive economic development and alleviate traffic congestion,” said Lewkowicz.

Graeme Frisque is a reporter with The Mississauga News and Brampton Guardian. Email: gfrisque@metroland.com

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