Sunday, June 27, 2010

Is Watson's tune changing on LRT affordability?

An artist's rendition of LRT trains emerging from an overpass. © City of Ottawa

Ottawa mayoral candidate Jim Watson has been questioning the affordability of Ottawa's light-rail transit plan, and specifically the tunnel portion, virtually since the plan was approved. Dating back to when he was a MPP to more recently, once he'd announced his candidacy for mayor, Watson's been concerned with the city's ability to commit to the tunnel based on the quality of estimates made so far and the propensity tunneling can have in incurring cost overruns.

More recently, though, his tone on that affordability may be changing. In discussing Watson's recent pledge to keep tax increases at or below 2.5% per year over the next four years if elected mayor, the Ottawa Citizen's Randall Denley suggested that Watson seems to be coming around to thinking that the $2.1B is indeed affordable for Ottawa, without putting undue strain on the city's taxpayers.

From the Citizen:

Perhaps the most important point in Watson's tax and spending announcement was the candidate's quiet acknowledgement that the city actually has the money to fund its light-rail project and it isn't going to bankrupt the taxpayers. The city can even afford a debenture if the project goes over budget, Watson says, just so long as the cost doesn't soar by something like $800 million. It was an attempt to climb down from the policy that has defined the early part of Watson's campaign. Smart move, maybe a little late.
If Watson is indeed dropping his opposition to the light-rail plan, that means at least two of the front-runners for mayor (Watson and Alex Cullen)--three if you include incumbent Larry O'Brien, who has yet to announce his candidacy--are on the same page in terms of light-rail transit implementation.