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New Highway 7 a total misallocation of funds

My second Mercury Editorial Board piece is in yesterday's paper pondering our societal spending priorities on highways versus rail. The paper's choice of stock photo to use is excellent. Here's the text of the article:

Rail transit opportunities grow

Opportunities are brewing for Guelph to work together with Waterloo to better interconnect our cities by rail transit.

From Waterloo's proposed light rail transit (LRT) system to the North Mainline Municipal Alliance study to GO Transit's expansive mood, there is much we can do.

For more than 30 years, Waterloo Region has discussed installing an LRT system connecting Cambridge to Kitchener and Waterloo along existing freight tracks -- tracks that served this exact function up until the end of the Second World War.

Waterloo Region's LRT network will be a boon for commuters and transit users within Waterloo Region when all the hurdles are finally cleared and it is put into place some years from now.

It will allow people to move freely without being constricted by traffic, but it will do nothing for the masses of people who travel between Waterloo Region and Guelph. We can and should connect Guelph, Waterloo Region's nearest and biggest neighbour, to this network. We are being given, for a substantial sum of our own money, a new divided Highway 7 instead.

The new Highway 7 is estimated to cost some $400 million, while a 2006 study commissioned by an alliance of the mayors along the railway line through Guelph, the so-called North Mainline Municipal Alliance, determined that connecting Waterloo Region to Georgetown's GO train station would cost just $19 million in infrastructure improvements, just one-twentieth of the cost of the new Highway 7, over a substantially greater distance and thus to the benefit of substantially more people.

The implementation of this study would give Guelph much better access to its neighbouring communities for a small fraction of the price of our new Highway 7.

Were GO trains to simply originate in Georgetown or Guelph and travel to Waterloo Region before heading for Toronto, half our battle would be solved.

Highway 7's daily commuters would have an efficient way of travelling in both directions. Guelph would be linked to Waterloo Region and ultimately its light rail transit system to Kitchener.

Guelph has the opportunity to connect to the proposed LRT if we act now, and it is well within our capability to do so. While Cambridge and Kitchener have railway tracks connecting them, Guelph also has separate tracks connecting to both Cambridge and Kitchener.

Cambridge has been fighting for GO train service for more than 30 years, 26 of those years with GO trains dead-heading from Milton to Campbellville to park for the night, a practice that ended in January 2007. They would have the service already except that our society's spending priorities have been on highways instead of railways since the advent of the automobile.

The freight railway's simple and rational but as-yet unmet request for improved signalling and double track on its already busy line to Cambridge would have to be honoured before it could agree to host GO train service.

When Cambridge connects to the GO train network, a realistic possibility with the Ontario government's recent investments in transit, it will give the south end of the light rail transit system a connection to the outside world and increase the usefulness of the LRT service.

At that point more than ever, Guelph's connection to the south end of the LRT line will be needed.

Many people see expanded commuter train service as a means to get people out of our cities, but it is important to also see it as a way to get people into our cities.

The former is unappealing to many as it creates a feeling that we are promoting the existence of bedroom communities. However with a proper rail connection going both ways, we allow our cities to grow together and compete as one. Having the LRT system connect Guelph to Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo will bring us closer together as neighbours, and save us money to boot.

For $400 million, we can connect Guelph and Waterloo Region on a new Highway 7. For $19 million, we can better connect Guelph and Waterloo Region not only to each other, but also to the Greater Toronto Area, by rail. Is it our responsibility to ensure that our tax dollars are spent efficiently.

As we all become more aware of the damage our cars cause to the environment not only by driving them, but by building roads on which to drive them, the need to look into better means of transport is becoming paramount.

While it is my contention that "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron, there is little to stop us from growing responsibly if that is what we choose to do.

Waterloo Region's LRT, Guelph's connection to it, and the transit opportunities afforded to us by the North Mainline Municipal Alliance study, as well as GO Transit's recently announced environmental assessment to bring service to our region, give us the opportunity to pursue this transit future, and to grow with a lesser impact on the environment.

The province of Ontario has, through its Places to Grow legislation, made our need to work as a community to expand responsibly more important than ever before.

We have the opportunities to do just that -- at a much lower cost than the status quo. So let us work together to pursue these transit opportunities, to work with Waterloo Region to help them get their LRT system, and to get ourselves connected to it.

Posted at 05:00 on March 02, 2008

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The oft-missed point | columns essays guelph highways transit | Guelph city council presentation on the former Lafarge Lands planning application


Ross W. Clarkson writes at Sun Mar 2 10:48:56 EST 2008...

I completely agree with you. $400 million to be spent on a new highway #7 is an obscene waste of our hard-earned tax dollars. Please add my name to the list of persons in favor of a rail link.


300baud (300baud.livejournal.com/) writes at Fri Mar 7 14:24:20 EST 2008...

Not to rain on your parade, but I'll believe Waterloo's getting a LRT when I see the crossing barrier come down. But maybe you have better information than the speculation I've been hearing for so many years?

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