​Leaders from all levels of government were all smiles Thursday as they officially broke ground on construction of  Phase 1 of Waterloo Region`s ION LRT system at a ceremony in Waterloo.

Phase 1 of ION's rapid transit system began today as transit and government officials dug ribbon-adorned shovels into the ground at ION's operations, maintenance and storage facility at 518 Dutton Drive.

Regional Councillor Jim Wideman, who is also the chair of the planning and works committee, said the start of construction represents 12 years of hard work and lobbying.  

"It's without a doubt the highlight of my career," said Wideman, who won't be seeking re-election this year. "I feel very happy and very proud of this being a part of my legacy."

For Regional Chair Ken Seiling, this project is crucial to the region's economy.

"Transit's the way of concentrating growth in the existing areas and stop that sprawl, because that sprawl is deadly to farming, it's deadly to communities and very expensive to maintain," he said. 

While some preliminary road work for the LRT has already begun, construction is expected to begin in earnest in early September.