INFRASTRUCTURE IN WATERLOO REGION SET TO MATCH PACE OF GROWTH

Waterloo Region’s continued growth and resilience in the face of all obstacles has been a common thread across much of the material I’ve published over the past year and a half.  Real estate is, of course, the lens through which we’ve monitored the developments of an unpredictable and tumultuous time, but it must be said that a strong housing market is an excellent indicator of the economic prospects and overall well-being of a community.  And by that standard, Waterloo Region looks poised to continue along our recent upward trajectory.

As of the end of last year, Waterloo Region totaled nearly 624,000 residents – enough people to qualify as the 10th largest Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) in the entire country.  According to demographics published by the Region itself, our area remains one of the fastest-growing regions in Ontario and is on-track to reach a population total of over 920,000 within the next 30 years.  That’s an increase of over 48 per cent!  But as the population of our community continues to surge, and as ever more individuals and families turn to our area in search of housing and employment opportunities, how well are we prepared to accommodate these newcomers in terms of infrastructure?

Waterloo’s plan for growth over the past decade has centred largely upon the need for urban intensification and building upward rather than outward.  This is a subject I’ve covered extensively in the past, so I won’t revisit the ins and the outs of that strategy in detail again here.  But there’s no mistaking the progress that’s been made, especially over the past few years as the LRT system has become a reality and increasing numbers of high-density residential units line our central urban corridors.

Along with all this intensification has come a focus on creating a friendlier environment on the human scale, particularly for cyclists and pedestrians.  Today, this can be seen most clearly in Uptown Waterloo itself where last year’s temporarily dedicated cycle lanes on many major roads are becoming fixtures permanently built into the urban infrastructure.  While frustrating for some motorists, this reflects the reality that more and more people have adopted a walkable/bike-able lifestyle – living in high-rise condos close to the centre of town, and without the need for a personal vehicle to get to and from work, or to run their daily errands.  Besides growing numbers of trails, paths and lanes, we’re also seeing the twin cities make acquiring land for urban parks and playgrounds a renewed priority.  Here at Chestnut Park West, our agents have been directly involved over the past several months in working with municipal governments to purchase land for this purpose.  More parks and recreational areas are always a good thing to see, and something that our growing numbers of core residents and their families will enjoy for generations to come.

Bolstering public transit in the region is another key part of making sure we’re prepared to accommodate large numbers of new residents in the coming years.  The opening of the first phase of the LRT back in 2019 was a major milestone, as the promise of this prestige project is what was driving much of the new building activity over the past 10 years along the Kitchener-Waterloo’s central corridor.  Looking ahead to later this decade, the extension of the existing line into Cambridge has been approved by the Regional Council, which will create an unbroken light rail line all the way from Conestoga Mall in north Waterloo down to the Ainslie Street Terminal in Downtown Galt to the south – more than 20 kilometres as the crow flies.  This extended service will connect directly to a brand-new central transit hub in Downtown Kitchener, an ambitious project set to begin construction later this year.  The King-Victoria Transit Hub or ‘Central Station’ will be a large mixed-use development incorporating inter-city rail (GO Transit and VIA Rail), local LRT service, a bus terminal, and retail/commercial spaces.  All of these steps will be taking place within the next 10 years – putting Waterloo Region’s public transit infrastructure on a ‘big city level’ before reaching a ‘big city population’.

Lastly, should you be worried that the needs of commuters are being neglected, we have a major highway expansion coming down the pipe in the next several years, too.  The existing route of Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph has for years been targeted by criticism – most of it very much warranted.  The single lane stretch between Fountain Street North outside of Breslau and Wellington County Road 32 just outside of Guelph city limits is notorious for backlogs and accidents.  And, with the increasing amount of back-and-forth commuting between Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph, the difficulties have been getting worse year by year.  In an effort to relieve the situation, the Ontario government has approved a major subsidy to construct a brand-new replacement of the existing roadway – a four lane highway including a new bridge over the Grand River in Kitchener.  Work on the supporting infrastructure for the new highway has been underway for a few years already, with an intensification of works planned within the coming year.

To supplement the specifics on everything Waterloo Region residents have to look forward to in the coming years is the knowledge that the total value of all building permits issued in Waterloo region in 2020 was a whopping $1.6B.  for perspective’s sake, that’s comfortably more than the 10-year average of $1.2B, according to the Region of Waterloo’s own figures.  Again, all this is in spite of the negative impacts of the COVID pandemic, particularly during the first few months of last year.  And, somewhat surprisingly, these same statistics show a rise in both commercial and institutional development over 2019’s figures – a strong indication that the pandemic has done little to affect the value placed on a strong community and its supporting infrastructure by the residents of our community.

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