Commuting to and from Kitchener for work or play in the GTA could soon be a lot easier.
On Friday, the Metrolinx board will be handed a new report which could accelerate the introduction of all-way, all-day GO Transit service between Kitchener and Toronto’s Union Station.
The report offers up two options for getting the service to Kitchener.
One of two key suggestions in the report showcases building a freight bypass along Highway 407. This move would permit GO trains to proceed along their own tracks for their entire route along the Kitchener corridor.
This plan would take at least eight years to complete, says the report and, though it would require $3.6 billion in capital costs, it would end interference from freight trains.
The second proposed option the Metrolinx board is being given involves Metrolinx continuing to use a CN Rail line from Bramalea through Georgetown stations.
Rather than build the CN train lines, this option of the plan says that it would add extra trains by making track, signal and structure improvements as well as adding additional platforms and tracks.
Total price tag on the changes? Just under a billion dollars in capital costs and it could be completed within five years.
The report notes that the downsides to this option are potential delays for riders caused by issues involving the freight trains.
Both plans would cut 20 minutes from a commuter’s trip between Kitchener and Union Station.
Kitchener has rapidly become a tech and innovation hub (thanks to the presence of the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University) and is an increasingly attractive destination for prospective homeowners and commuters. The greater Kitchener metropolitan area (encompassing Cambridge and Waterloo) has a population of 524,000.
Earlier this year, therecord.com reported that in recognition of growing pressures on the local 2019 housing market, the City of Kitchener wanted to launch an affordable housing strategy, but the strategy and a plan of action to address the situation wouldn’t be in place until the end of 2020.
Signs are clear, the story said, that housing affordability is becoming a bigger concern in Kitchener. In the past four years, rents have jumped 20 per cent and average house prices have increased 50 per cent — both well above inflation. More than 40 per cent of Waterloo Region renters spend a third or more of their income on housing.
A National Rental Report released this week by Rentals.ca showed that rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Kitchener was $1,160 a month. Kitchener was ranked 24th in the country for October rents. A one-bedroom in Toronto costs $2,320.
And, according to a Zoocasa.com report from September, the average price of a detached home in Kitchener (a seller’s market) in August was $615,568, compared to the $619,307 cost for a condo in Toronto.
“The Kitchener housing market has changed,” says a city report referenced in therecord.com story. Businesses and the economy are growing, bringing more employees and an increased demand for housing, while rising housing costs in the Toronto area mean more people are considering commuting from Waterloo Region, pushing up local prices.
“New housing of all forms and tenure are becoming unattainable for many. In some cases, people are feeling displaced or ‘left out,'” the report says.
The strategy, to be crafted over the next year and a half, will spell out Kitchener’s housing priorities and a plan of the actions the city can take to boost the supply of affordable housing.
As for current commuting, GO trains now run twice daily toward Toronto in the morning and then toward Kitchener in the evening. There is no weekend service.
Under the new proposal, GO trains would run hourly to and from Kitchener and once every two hours on weekends. A new station would also be built in Breslau.
If Metrolinx approves one of the options on Friday, the project would move to a preliminary design phase and then onto procurement.