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Light rail transit: 'A failure to move forward will doom us'

by Ken Seiling

On Wednesday, Waterloo regional Chair Ken Seiling delivered his inaugural address to begin a new term for regional council. This is an excerpt from that speech.

We are a Region that is blessed in so many ways and is the envy of many other communities. Yes we have our problems and issues, but in comparison to many others, we continue to move forward on many fronts. This is not just an accident but, I believe, a product of a history which has seen many transformational moments which have been seized and acted upon rather than let pass.

The arrival of the railroads in the mid-nineteenth century with the prodding and assistance of local government created rapid changes in the settlements of the then (Waterloo) County. In the late 1950’s, the creation of the University of Waterloo changed the face of post-secondary education in the Region and laid the basis for a great deal of what today is driving a large part of our local economy. In the 1960’s, the Conestoga Expressway, built in the face of much opposition, in the face of claims that no one would use it, and in the face of those who argued that it was too costly, was built entirely at local expense and set the stage, not only for development in Waterloo and in Kitchener but for the movement of people, goods and services in a timely way throughout the entire Region. An article in the London Free Press in October contrasts what the Expressway did for Waterloo Region and what the failure to do something similar in London has done to the city since that time.

In the 1980’s, another transformational moment for the Region and for the City of Cambridge was the location of Toyota, announced the same day as my first election 25 years ago. Although the infrastructure was originally to be financed by the Province, a change of Government forced the Region and the City to finance part of the infrastructure costs, an investment that opened up the north Cambridge lands and benefited the entire Region.

One could go on to identify other transformational initiatives but let me bring this to today. This Regional Council, those of you sitting here today, are in the position of making decisions on one of the most transformational projects we will see in our lifetime and the decisions you make will be felt for many years to come in this Region. As our population continues to grow, we are well on our way to the more than 200,000 additional residents predicted. We must shape that growth and manage it.

Early in 2011, we will need to decide whether to proceed with our Light Rail Project, a project that has been studied and discussed for many years. It is a project which has significant Federal and Provincial support, the largest infrastructure investment this Region has seen from senior levels of Government.

The choices you make will have a lasting impact. A decision to proceed will curb urban sprawl, increase urban intensification, lessen automobile congestion, reduce road construction costs and preserve neighbourhoods, encourage investment both in development and jobs, both short term and long term, enhance the quality of life in our communities, and keep us on the leading edge of innovation.

A failure to move forward will doom us to pressure for increased urban sprawl, to the need to attempt to build a larger and more costly road system than we would need (if indeed it were even possible), to become a community that would look more like the GTA with its gridlock, to less intensification, to end up being a community less attractive to investment and job creation, and to be seen as a community which failed to manage it growth and lost the economic vitality and the quality of life which we all seek to preserve.

Yes, this will be a transformational Council, one way or the other. I have every confidence that you will be the Council whose legacy will be recorded as the one that, in the tradition of this Region, chose the path to move us ahead, that had a vision of what the future needed, and that left our children and grandchildren the community they deserve… .

The challenges are there. Our services are critical to many people today and in the days ahead but our children and grandchildren are looking to the world we will create for them. Let’s not let them down!

Let’s get on with the job!

Ken Seiling is chair of Waterloo Region.