London Free Press - March 29, 2019

BRT vision


It’s about vision.

Where do you see our city in 50 years? As Londoners, we might have passing thoughts about our future. As councillors, the road ahead needs to be front and centre in all of our decisions.

And so, we found ourselves in a lengthy discussion as a community about how we should map out the next 50 years. Significant public consultation went into both the London Plan and our transportation master plan. Through some of the largest municipal public discussions in Canada, Londoners said clearly they wanted to decrease sprawl, protect our environment, improve mobility through the city, enhance affordability, and revitalize our downtown.

Rapid transit was developed to support all of these goals. But therein lies the rub. While most of us can ascribe to these goals, are we ready to accept that there might be some personal impacts that come with them?

During the past 13 years, Londoners have been very involved in the development of our transportation plans, however, as the plans became more refined, the more the personal impacts became known and resistance developed. Concerns about increased traffic congestion, project cost and the impacts of construction on businesses and residents came to a head.

Regardless of whether bus rapid transit (BRT) proceeds or not, every kilometre of road along the network will need to be replaced during the next 10 years, creating the same construction impacts.  Traffic congestion will worsen as more people become dependent on driving their cars.

And despite only 4.6 per cent of the project’s total cost coming from property taxes, a 50 per cent contingency reserve for cost overruns and having one of the lowest costs per kilometre of rapid transit in the country, opponents stoked fear about the cost impact of BRT on residents.

In reality, the cost of not proceeding will be more profound.

Rapid transit corridors support more efficient land use by promoting density along its corridors. This efficiency helps us decrease the overall cost to service the city and lower tax needs by about $40 million, or $160 a household every year. These corridors also would have helped us to avoid $120 million in development charges for new infrastructure.

That infrastructure will have to be paid for locally, which could add an additional $2,000 to $3,000 to the cost of every new single-family home. More likely, that infrastructure instead will be delayed longer to avoid having such a large impact on the development charges rate. That, in turn, will slow the pace at which we can grow.

London had pledged to contribute $23 million in property taxes and $107 million in development charges to the cost of transit enhancements in the city. Together, the federal and provincial governments have committed $374 million. At the end of the transit debate this week, about $94 million in federal and provincial funding still was available to be used for transit supportive projects. However, the municipal contribution had been completely used up.

Due to the “a la carte” approach taken by council to the list of potential projects, it will now cost us an extra $27 million, roughly, in additional municipal funds to access the remaining federal and provincial cash. This is because the senior government funding is dependent on the city contributing about one-quarter to the total cost of the projects.

So where do we go from here?

Deviating this much from the transportation master plan will take us at least a couple years to retool and move forward with new proposals. We can certainly continue to develop ideas to access the federal and provincial funds, but it will cost us more to do so.

Many of the councillors who did not support the full BRT proposal indicated their support to enhance conventional transit. I hope my colleagues will back up those desires by approving the much-needed increases in operating funding to accomplish that enhancement, especially to the high-density areas left out of the modified plan.

And further, I hope council will quickly develop a strong common vision reflecting the needs of Londoners so that we can take the steps necessary to ensure we are best positioned for a great future.

That is something we owe to everyone in our city.

Stephen Turner is the city councillor for Ward 11.

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