Dec 17, 2006

Bus project hits a snag

Mississauga's long-delayed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project may be sidetracked indefinitely.

And residents can blame Ottawa if that happens, say City officials.

They're running out of patience because, with another year almost gone by, they're yet to see a penny from the federal government to fund the project, despite Ottawa's promise to chip in $58 million of the cost.

"If we don't get the money, we won't be moving ahead," director of finance Rob Rossini told councillors during discussion on the 2007 budget.

The City has already received $62.8 million from the Province and it has set aside $64 million of its own money. All the funding is in place, except Ottawa's share. Without it, the project cannot proceed.

"We don't have that kind of money," Rossini told The News.

But it seems the funds won't be coming soon.

"We're in the process of reviewing the project," said Natalie Sarafran, an aide to Minster of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities Lawrence Cannon, when contacted by The News.

Despite Ottawa's lack of cooperation, several initiatives directly related to the BRT are going ahead. These include a BRT office ($640,000 in start-up costs set aside), and a environmental assessment of the project ($250,000 approved). The City is also spending $150,000 on a business case.

But the City isn't giving up hope. Mayor Hazel McCallion has been persistent - and vocal - in her lobbying efforts. This may become easier with federal elections looming next year.

Decades in the planning, the BRT is envisioned to run across the GTA as a seamless service. Mississauga's segment, slated to be completed by 2011, would see bus-only lanes and stations run from south-west Mississauga along the Hwy. 403/Eglinton corridor to Hwy. 407. In time, the plan calls for BRT links to the Kipling subway station to the south and, possibly, Pearson International Airport to the north.

If the BRT is shelved, it would be a severe blow to transit planning in Mississauga: A study estimates that in five years the Mississauga portion of the BRT network could attract nearly 10,000 passengers an hour in the peak direction during rush hours.

"The BRT is a key project for the City of Mississauga, the Region of Peel and the Province of Ontario, including the proposed growth plan for the Greater Horseshoe," Martin Powell, the City's commissioner of transportation, has said.

However, there was one bit of good news on the transit front: After 15 years of lobbying, ground was broken Dec. 8 for the new GO Station in the northwest corner of the city. When completed next fall, some 800 riders will go through the station each day, taking pressure off the area's roads.

Rob MacIssac, newly-appointed chair of the Greater Toronto Transit Authority (GTTA), which will set the transit agenda for the GTA for decades to come, hailed the new facility.

"In the next 25 years there will be nearly two million vehicles on our roads within the GTA," said MacIssac. "New stations like Lisgar will make it easier for people to leave their cars at home."

The BRT may be stalled, but other transportation initiatives are moving ahead. Between 2007 and 2009, the City plans to spend $5 million on feasibility and environmental studies on "higher-order" public transit along the Hurontario St. corridor, a thoroughfare that attracts nearly a quarter of Mississauga Transit's daily users. Ideas include a LRT (light rapid transit) system where dedicated rail lines are installed. Eventually, it will connect with Brampton's $280-million AcceleRide.

With Islington Subway Station slated to be vacated by 2009, the City has set aside $5 million to build a new facility at Kipling, envisioned as an inter-regional hub, for Mississauga Transit. Currently, MT carries 21,000 passengers to the subway every day.

The City is budgeting $98 million over the next decade to expand its fleet by 165 new buses. Another $162 million is earmarked to replace 242 aging vehicles. Commuters may ride in hybrid buses by 2010.
Thanks to The Mississauga News for this report.

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