Kitchener-Waterloo

Region to seek federal, provincial funding for new $120M bus facility

The Region of Waterloo is hoping to use funding from the provincial and federal government to build a new bus storage and maintenance facility in north Waterloo.

Ontario's infrastructure minister announced $1.67 billion in transit funding

A Grand River Transit bus is seen here on King Street in Kitchener in February. The region wants to start building a bus storage and maintenance facility in north Waterloo this August. It will be able to apply for federal and provincial funding for the project starting on Tuesday. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

The Region of Waterloo is hoping to use funding from the provincial and federal government to build a new bus storage and maintenance facility in north Waterloo.

It's part of the region's plan to increase public transit, including purchasing articulated buses, which are the kind that can bend in the middle.

On Tuesday, Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton announced $1.62 billion will be available to regions outside the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area for transit.

But the announcement isn't new. The Region of Waterloo has been waiting about one year to apply for the funding.

"We've been lobbying both levels of government for this," Regional Chair Karen Redman told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition on Wednesday.

Crunch time for construction

In a report tabled to the planning and works committee in April 2018, staff wrote that the region could see $187 million in federal funding and $154 million in provincial funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

That funding could to go toward the bus facility as well as new buses. The region would chip in $126 million for a total of $467 million.

On Tuesday, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris said that's the amount of money the region can anticipate as part of the tri-level funding agreement.

"This is a fantastic announcement for Waterloo region," Harris said.

"I know that the Region of Waterloo is ready to start construction as quickly as possible. I think we're very hopeful that we'll be able to meet this year's construction season."

Redman said some of the numbers for construction may need to be updated because costs are rising.

But she said the region is ready to go with its application as soon as the process opens next Tuesday.

"We don't want to miss 2019 build season," she said. "We're getting down to the crunch time right now."

Elections 'can slow down approval processes'

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic echoed Redman saying as a regional councillor, he wants to see the bus facility funded because it's "going to be key as part of our expansion plans for Grand River Transit."

He added they're also anticipating receiving additional money from the federal government this year, as announced in the budget, for infrastructure funding. He said it's estimated to be about $7 million for the city and $14 million for the region.

Vrbanovic says the city is also "quite keen" to apply for two other streams of funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program that have not yet been opened up by the province. Those include green projects and recreational and cultural funding.

That application process is anticipated to open later in this fiscal year.

When asked if the federal election in October could impact the program, which was announced federally in 2018, Vrbanovic said it might.

But, he says, municipalities will make infrastructure an issue in the federal election.

"We are not looking to take any steps backwards in terms of announcements that have previously been made by federal governments, but the election certainly can slow down approval processes," he said.

He said the big concern is missing a construction season.

"If we delay projects, it's only going to put pressure on some of the skills shortages that we're already seeing throughout Ontario," he said.

"If we all of a sudden see an influx of projects happening, it can actually create a situation where we're not getting as much value for every infrastructure dollar as we otherwise would."

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