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Rally for Rails: Light-rail transit supporters staging event Dec. 5 in Waterloo

A rally in support of light-rail transit is being organized to bolster support among elected officials for the project.

Fearing a slacking commitment for the $790 million undertaking the Tri-cities Transport Action Group, the Waterloo Students Planning Advisory and Wonderful Waterloo have pooled their resources to stage what they call Rally for Rails on Sunday, Dec. 5 from noon to 1 p.m. in the public square in downtown Waterloo.

“This rally is to show Waterloo’s incoming city council and incoming city councils across the region as well as the incoming regional council that there still is support for this project,” Tim Mollison, of the transport action group, said.

In June 2009 regional councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of the plans for a light-rail system from Conestoga Mall in the north to Fairview Park Mall in the south that also has rapid buses through Cambridge.

During the campaigns for the Oct. 25 municipal elections support for the light-rail project appeared to soften among some local politicians.

Many campaigning politicians said the project has little support among voters. Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran went from voting in favour of light rail at regional council in June 2009 to vocally questioning the costs and routes.

“I think the whole reason we kind of came together to organize this kind of collaborative demonstration in support of the LRT is a lot of the rhetoric leading up to October’s elections,” Mackenzie Keast, of the student planning advisory, said.

“There is a lot of negativity toward the LRT, a lot of outspoken members of the community had expressed their anti-LRT position and a lot of the local councillors were publicly speaking out against the LRT,” Keast said.

In June 2009 regional council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the light-rail plans. Then the provincial government committed $300 million to the project and the federal government announced $265 million.

That leaves $225 million in costs the region must cover. Regional planners are preparing a report that will be tabled in January with options to reduce costs.

The Sunday rally was deliberately scheduled to occur the day before the first meeting of the new city council in Waterloo and elsewhere.

“So we are hoping it’s going to be kind of fresh on their minds and show them, hey: ‘Yes you have spoken to a lot of people that are against the LRT, there have been a lot of very vocal opponents to the LRT, but look at all these people who have come out to show that they are in favour,” Keast said.

Halloran said Waterloo city council will not be passing a motion to oppose the planned light-rail system.

“But we have to look at all the options,” Halloran said. “To me it’s about the costs and how much taxpayers can bear.”

But Halloran said she does not want to be characterized as being opposed to the light-rail plans either.

“I don’t want to present it that: ‘Oh she’s against it,’ and then I will get all this hate mail from the LRT guys, which I am starting to get anyway,” Halloran said.

“We have to be open to the possibilities of new options based on the funding that we have in place now,” Halloran said.

Coun. Mark Whaley, who represented the City of Waterloo on the region’s transportation master plan committee where he supported the light-rail plans, said he is rethinking that position because of the short fall in capital funding.

“And what I mean by rethinking is unclear even in my mind, but I don’t think based on the fact that there is a quarter-of-a-billion dollar shortfall on the money that we can just go blindly forward with the plan we had before without some kind of consultation with the public again,” Whaley said.

Whaley said he has no intentions at this time to introduce a motion at Waterloo city council in opposition to the region’s plans for light rail.