ION LRT expansion to Cambridge won’t begin until 2028, has $1.36 billion price tag

An ION train awaits its first passengers at the launch at Fairview Station on Friday June 21. Kevin Nielsen / Global News

The Region of Waterloo released public consultation planning materials for the second phase of the ION LRT system, which will bring the train through south Kitchener to Cambridge.

The material provided the project’s current estimated price tag ($1.36 billion) ahead of upcoming public consultation meetings in Cambridge and Kitchener.

READ MORE: Documentary details impact of ION light rail system on Waterloo region

Project manager Matthew O’Neil says that the price tag for the 18-km expansion is drastically higher than phase 1 because of several factors including inflationary costs and the fact that the route will cross rivers, highways and railroads.

“Stage 2 has a number of structures. So bridges that we need to build over our roadways, over railways, water,” he explains. “We’re crossing the Grand River, we’re crossing the Speed River.

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“With those additional structures that is a large part of the reason why that number is where it is at $1.36 billion.”

READ MORE: Nearly 300,000 passengers boarded ION trains in Waterloo over first 11 days of service

The report also notes that shovels are not expected to break ground on the next phase of ION until 2028 at the earliest.

“So it may seem a ways away, but it’s a very large and complex project,” O’Neil says. “It takes time to implement and there’s a lot to do in that time.”

He believes the time is an asset with all that is involved in planning the second phase.

“There’s a lot to do in that time. And I think we know time being on our side I think is an advantage in terms of how we approach this project,” O’Neil says.

The start date could be affected by funding as the region will be asking the federal and provincial governments to foot the full bill for phase 2, he adds.

READ MORE: ION LRT gets on track in Kitchener and Waterloo

“I think it’s a strategic project in terms of achieving their goals, objectives in the province’s growth plan,” he says, noting that the LRT project would help create higher population densities while also limiting urban sprawl to protect the environment.

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Another factor built into the cost is the number of properties the region will have to purchase as a whole or in part. The route appears to touch on a couple hundred properties in photos that were posted with the consultation package.

O’Neil could not provide the exact number of properties that will be effected by the LRT line but did say, “what we have done has shown people, I think as clear as we can, which properties are touched and impacted to either a partial or a full extent.”

The region will host two public information sessions in Cambridge and another in Kitchener in the coming weeks to discuss the plan.

O’Neil says staff are pretty excited by the opportunity to hear from residents about phase 2.

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