Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
Tony Caldwell / Postmedia
Mayor Jim Watson says it’s “absolutely asinine” to consider not proceeding with Stage 2 LRT, while one of his council foes is questioning if he would fulfil his re-election promise at any cost.Watson told reporters in Toronto on Tuesday that the public is “very much on board” with the Stage 2 program, which now has a price tag of $4.6 billion, up from the $3.4 billion council had been told it would cost to extend tracks to Moodie Drive, Algonquin College, Trim Road and Riverside South.The mayor, who was at Queen’s Park in a 20-member delegation from Ottawa to have meetings with provincial cabinet ministers, said the city isn’t blowing the Stage 2 budget because, according to him, there isn’t a budget yet.“I think there has been a lot of confusion when people talk about, ‘It’s already over budget.’ No, no. It’s over the estimate. That’s a big difference between an estimate and a budget. The budget is what we set,” Watson said. “When we go out to tender, we have a rough idea of what the bids are going to (be), but we don’t have an exact idea until the document is opened, the seal is opened.“The notion that we are going to go and ask the public, ‘Well, why don’t we just not have Phase 2?’ is absolutely asinine. You have to have Phase 2 in order for the system to work, otherwise it’s a stunted 12-kilometre system that is going to clog in the Tunney’s Pasture area and Blair station.”Back in Ottawa, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans couldn’t believe Watson would so easily buy into a transit project that would cost $1.2 billion more than projected.“Those are strong words from the mayor, especially a mayor who has liked to portray himself as a penny-pincher,” Deans said at city hall. “I still think it has to be value for money and it can’t be LRT at any cost. It has to make financial sense and we have to be able to pay the bill at the end of the day.“We have to be able to afford it, and I think we need to ask the taxpayers if they’re still on board. After all, they’re footing the bill for this.”Council on Wednesday is scheduled to hear from public delegates about the Stage 2 proposal. On March 6, council will vote on awarding the contracts and begin construction this year.
Technical Briefing. Stage 2 Light Rail Feb. 22, 2019. System map showing: LRT Confederation Line West; Trillium Line South; Confederation line East
Stage 1, the $2.1-billion, 12.5-km line between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair station, isn’t open yet. It’s supposed to be ready for the city at the end of March, but no one at city hall with any authority believes the Rideau Transit Group will deliver the LRT system by that time.Stage 2 builds off Stage 1. The Confederation Line LRT will be extended west from Tunney’s Pasture and east from Blair station, while the Trillium Line will be extended to Riverside South and the Ottawa International Airport.The Stage 2 program was a cornerstone of Watson’s re-election campaign in last fall’s municipal vote. Watson noted Tuesday he received a “strong mandate” from residents, winning just over 71 per cent of the vote.Watson said the city’s expanded scope of the Stage 2 program will save money in the long run. He also defended the affordability of the project.The city will need to borrow $700 million more than originally anticipated for transit projects over 30 years.“It’s a pretty good time to debenture,” Watson said. “We still have a triple-A credit rating … and this is the time to do it when interest rates are relatively low.”Future users of the transit system should help pay for the asset through long-term debt repayment, he said.On the other hand, Deans said residents are concerned about the amount of debt the city has been taking on. The city needs to consider how borrowing another $700 million for LRT will impact other infrastructure projects, she said.The provincial and federal governments have committed about $2.4 billion for Stage 2. Watson said the city won’t be asking for additional funds.— With files from Brian Lilleyjwilling@postmedia.comtwitter.com/JonathanWilling ALSO IN THE NEWS:Woman starts her week at casino, and it pays offClark Davey, 1928-2019: ‘The true journalist of journalists’No more extensions in LeBreton mediation, Heritage Minister says