The combined census (2016) for incorporated municipalities and unincorporated communities between Carbonear and Paradise puts the population at nearly 90,000 people.
The traffic generated daily between these towns and St. John's makes it the province's longest and busiest commuting corridor. It is time to undertake an assessment to determine the feasibility of developing an electric light rail transit (LRT) system to serve that transportation corridor.
A likely source of funding for the study may be found in the recent federal government's $556 million infrastructure program for Newfoundland and Labrador, including $300 million for Green Infrastructure. The provincial contribution has yet to be announced.
If feasible, an LRT would harness Muskrat Falls power. Benefits would include reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced highway accidents and casualties and increased economic prospects for the region. Lacking hard figures, one can nonetheless foresee a significant boost in employment during development and a broad spectrum of skilled long-term jobs following its completion.
An LRT may be years away, if it is ever to happen. However, merely announcing that the project is a go would stimulate residential and business development along its route. The subsequent phases of project development until its completion - and beyond - would spur yet further tangible benefits, both for the metro St. John's area and Conception Bay. Nearly 20 per cent of the province's population would be direct beneficiaries of the service; close to 50 per cent if a St. John's LRT component were included.
Imagine the boost such a transit service would give tourism in the region. Nor is it crazy to think that an LRT might reverse out-migration trends for many municipalities and instead stimulate growth and increase tax revenues.
Taking a closer, more human view of the idea, consider how many people make regular trips to the city to avail of medical, government and other services and to shop. Others visit their kin in the hospitals and in long-term care facilities. In addition to working commuters, this is why there are 6,000 to 9,000 vehicles daily that travel the Veteran Memorial Highway. The numbers would be even higher were it not for extensive car-pooling. VMH serves only Conception Bay North, and does not account for the traffic leaving or arriving in towns between Cupids and Holyrood and between Seal Cove and Paradise. Drivers will appreciate that shifting the commuting burden to an LRT would result in significantly less mileage, therefore less wear and tear on personal vehicles, never mind fuel cost savings.
Besides drivers opting for the LRT, passengers would include non-drivers, the physically challenged, older persons able to travel alone, teens too young for licenses, and university and college students living at home or opting for the cheaper rents outside the city. Weather warnings aside, foul weather at any time is a disincentive for travel in either direction; an LRT would virtually eliminate weather barriers.
It's a given that an LRT would increase daily people traffic to the city and back; but St. John's residents would likewise use the service to avail of less congested service/retail and recreational options outside the city and to visit family and friends.
A metro St. John's component of the LRT may or may not involve a separate in-city system to which passengers transfer, and vice versa if heading out of the city. An in-city service presents a different set of planning and engineering challenges and would presumably entail a longer development period. In any case, it need not hold up a system that is deemed feasible for linking Conception Bay communities with the capital city. Metro Buses and taxis could meet arriving/departing trains either at a single terminus at the edge of the city or at stations strategically located across the city for passenger convenience and maximum revenue.
If not quite consoling for those aggrieved by the Muskrat Falls fiasco, an LRT may offer some measure of compensation for many. Conception Bay municipalities must not let this opportunity pass. If they cannot muster sufficient solidarity for the study, perhaps the province should step in. The funds available under the Green Infrastructure program should inspire the impetus for the study. What doesn't need a study is how quickly those funds can vanish.