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Real costs of LRT extend beyond region’s claims

A train set is a traditional Christmas gift many children have been happy to find under the tree. For Waterloo Region residents, the far more costly and useless toy train that is the light rail transit scheme is making for anything but a Merry Christmas.

Already a failure – the region has admitted it will do few of the things it misled the public with while initially pushing for it – the train nobody will ride is bound to siphon more than $2 billion out of the economy to no benefit. More pressingly right now, construction is strangling business at the time of the year many retailers rely on to fuel their sales budget.

As if the downtown core of Kitchener and, to a lesser extent, Waterloo weren’t under enough pressure, LRT construction has provided many with an extra incentive to stay away. The mess will drag on for two years. And things won’t get much better when the construction is done, as the mall-to-mall train will disrupt traffic in perpetuity, the same amount of time it will lose money, divert cash away from actually useful projects and milk residents’ wallets.

Just this week, a business that’s operated on King Street for 65 years, Ratz-Bechtel Funeral Home, announced it would be closing its doors for good due, in part, to the LRT construction.

Also this week, taxpayers got another taste of the inevitable cost overruns and the growing externalities – i.e. wasted money above and beyond the purported $818-million price tag – associated with the unloved project. In this case, it’s Kitchener having to come up with another $1.3 million next year to move gas pipelines due to the LRT – that’s four times the $406,000 budgeted for the work. And there’s even more work to be done, as yet unspecified and uncosted – every dollar to come from Kitchener taxpayers even as the city coffers take a hit from business losses.

We can expect that scenario to play out many times before the first train rolls, with repeated trips back to the coffers as the losses mount year after year.

It’s in this light that the lack of oversight and accountability in this project is glaringly obvious.

There are no guarantees the project won’t cost more than what’s budgeted. Nor are there the kinds of severe penalties that should be levied against politicians and administrators should the project fail to meet its diminishing targets: firings and forfeiture of assets at a minimum. If there’s anything we’ve learned from a host of mega-project disasters, from RIM Park to myriad Olympic Games, it’s that taxpayers will foot the bill, while those who backed the schemes and those who profited from them will walk away freely.

Make no mistake, even as optimistically forecasted, the rapid-transit plan will cost taxpayers, most of whom will never use it, large sums of money every year. The negatives – cost overruns, traffic snarls, disruption in the downtown cores and operating expenses, to name a few – will outweigh the positives touted by proponents.

Unneeded and unwanted, the train has been a divisive issue from the day it was floated. A ludicrous idea most people thought would die off, the reality is hitting home with every driving delay, business loss and service cut as the region desperately tries to hide the extent of the folly.

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