A decision to divide London’s contentious bus rapid transit (BRT) project into smaller pieces is drawing criticism and concern from politicians and advocates on both sides of the debate.
On Wednesday, city staff unveiled a list of 19 transit projects that could be eligible for more than $370 million worth of government funding. Five of the 19 items are different pieces of the BRT plan.
The list is the sole agenda item on Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the Civic Works Committee.
“It’s disappointing, it’s confusing, we don’t exactly know what we’re going to be presented with in terms of cost and we’re supposed to do all of this within two weeks and the public’s supposed to weigh in during that same time period,” said Ward 6 Councillor Phil Squire.
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Squire also expressed his frustration by using a comparison between BRT and being taken out for dinner.
“The City of London was taken to a fancy restaurant and said, you know, ‘spend as much as you want on a super plan, satisfy yourself and all will be well and the money will be coming!'” he began.
“And now it looks like we’re going to a fast food restaurant and we’re going to be asked to buy small items off the value menu and hope that it works.”
Marcus Plowright, a member of the pro-BRT community group Build This City, took aim at Squire for “fueling” a fire about the north connection portion of the plan, arguing that public opinion may have been different if communication was better.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the entirety of north London is against that,” Plowright said. “If they knew that they were gonna have their road disrupted anyway, they knew that they’re going to be gridlocked with buses running in traffic anyway for the next 10 years.
Residents, Plowright added, knew that costs “were going to go up three times or four times the cost or even 20 times the cost if we don’t do this as part of an infrastructure investment that’s supported by provincial and federal government.”
Dan McDonald, spokesperson for anti-BRT community group Down Shift, is worried that council will approve part of the project as a type of “Trojan Horse,” to lay the groundwork for it to implement the rest of the components down the road.
“Cutting it up into portions and all these other things, I just don’t know what that accomplishes. If someone’s there to say, ‘it just means we get the money.’ Uh, get the money for what?”
A public participation meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. next Wednesday afternoon at Centennial Hall. The city will submit the selected projects to the province for senior government funding approval by the end of March.