Thursday, July 8, 2010

2010 Election: Cullen on LRT affordability

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with mayoral candidates, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

The second in a series of posts looking at Alex Cullen's thoughts on transit leading up to the election deals with the affordability of Ottawa's current $2.1B light-rail transit plan, including specifically the $735M Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT). Cullen started by addressing the criticism that the LRT plan, and specifically the DOTT, has no upper limit budget.
I don’t want to fool people; the idea is not $735M come hell or high water, the idea is to get a tunnel in place that meets the need of our community. We think it’s $735M, but if it tends to be $750M, or $720M, that’s not such a big deal for me, as long as we get it in place, because we’re able to accommodate that. What is not sustainable is if a $735M tunnel becomes a $1.2B tunnel; that’s not sustainable. There are limits, and there would have to be limits, because we only have so much capacity. But we’re not in the danger zone of adopting something we cannot afford.
Leading up to and through the campaign so far, Cullen has been insistent that the City would be able to afford the current $2.1B LRT plan without breaking the bank. I asked him where that confidence came from.
We have the financial capacity [to fund this plan]. It does not bring us to our limit, and, as a matter fact, we’ve taken the whole transportation master plan, at $3.8B over the lifetime of that transportation master plan, and we can do it. So that’s where my confidence comes from. We have the revenues identified from development charges—that’s the portion of development charges dedicated to transit, that’s not 100 per cent of development charges—and we have the gas tax rebate, we have our federal and provincial funding partners, and we have what we normally allocate for transit capital, which is about $75M, and that gets us to $900M. And we don’t threaten our triple-A rating on that basis.
It is the biggest single project, it is going to transform our city, but the work that has gone into estimating the costs and estimating our financial capability of handling these costs, gives me the confidence to say that this is a very doable project.

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