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Hundreds rally in support of light-rail transit

by Melissa Tait

A crowd of light-rail transit supporters rallied at Waterloo Town Square on Sunday afternoon to remind elected officials there is support for the region’s project.

Around 200 people stood in the cold to hear organizers and elected officials speak about the benefits of light-rail transit. Many held signs reading Roads Are Not Free and BRT Is a Band-aid Solution. (BRT is an acronym for bus rapid transit.)

The rally was held the day before the new city council’s first meeting in response an election backlash against the $790-million project to bring light-rail transit to the region.

“We needed to make sure that (council members) heard loud and clear, not just what they got on the doorsteps from whoever was home when they managed to knock, but we needed to make sure that we showed there was really strong support for light-rail in Waterloo Region,” said Tim Mollison, a rally organizer from the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group.

Mollison and other organizers from the Waterloo Students Planning Advisory and from Wonderful Waterloo were glad to see so many people out, including elected officials Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr, Regional Chair Ken Seiling and Kitchener Centre MPP John Milloy.

Milloy reiterated that the provincial government had committed $300 million to the project — less than was originally promised — but still drew cheers from the crowd. Zehr and Seiling also spoke at the event.

Zehr received a loud cheer when he mentioned the announcements of GO Transit coming to the region, and the planned bus and train station at Victoria and King.

“A number of people have said the politicians need to be listening,” Zehr said. “I know that I’m listening, and we will have LRT in this community.”

Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran missed the rally for a family Christmas celebration out of town. In an interview afterwards she said it was good the rally was held, and that having the community engaged in the discussion is important.

Halloran said the plans have to be looked at again because the $235-million funding shortfall from the provincial promise is now on the shoulders of taxpayers.

“There are so many new things because of the change in the provincial funding. It makes it quite different,” Halloran said. “It’s going to affect future generations for many, many years and we’ve got to get it right.”

Mollison and the rally organizers say the funding shortfall from the province would be offset by the financial gains from building the light-rail system instead of building and maintaining new roads.

Waterloo councillors Angela Vieth, Jeff Henry and Mark Whaley also attended the rally. Vieth told the crowd the environmental concerns alone were important enough to push forward with light-rail plans.

Waterloo councillors Melissa Durrell and Diane Freeman missed the rally because of family engagements. Other councillors could not be reached for comment.

There was one opponent of light rail at the rally. John Shortreed, professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Waterloo, handed out anti-light-rail pamphlets explaining that he believes bus rapid transit is a better plan.