By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Are Hamilton councillors wobbling on its support for light rail transit in the city?
Should the city revisit bus rapid transit, and compare it again to LRT?
And how has Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray muddied the waters of the discussion?
These, and many other questions, about the future of LRT were thrown around by politicians May 7 at their general issues committee meeting.
The discussion was sparked by a former senior director of transportation for Hamilton, Ted Gill, who suggested in a presentation that maybe after six years BRT should be again compared to LRT. He said the main motivation for council’s support for LRT was promoting economic development for the downtown. He said new technology developed for BRT has made it appropriate to compare both systems again.
“It’s the same system,” said Gill. “The vehicles are different. I would not want to derail Hamilton’s efforts to get LRT.”
But during a political season with provincial and municipal elections affecting politicians, some councillors are looking at reviewing the BRT case.
Politicians choose LRT even though it was more expensive than BRT. But the operating costs, traffic issues, and insurance expenses were lower than a LRT system.
Ward 2 councillor Brian McHattie, who is running for mayor, proposed a notice of motion to review the economic benefits of both BRT and LRT. He acknowledged he is supporting LRT because of the economic benefits to Hamilton’s core.
“It’s useful to review the economic benefits of LRT and BRT,” he said.
Supporters of LRT were also excited to note that in a Twitter post byMurrayMay 7 he noted that the province would provide 100 per cent of the capital cost of rapid transit projects for Hamilton. The money would come from a recently announced $15 billion transit fund the Liberals announced as part of its budget proposal. But the information only managed to confuse politicians as they urged the province to properly inform the city about their motivations.
Adding to the discussion was Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead’s notice of motion requesting staff to review the cost and business case to install an LRT system along the A-line along James Street from Hamilton Airport to the waterfront instead of the B-line that would extend from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Hull said the B-line was adopted by staff because that it is where the transit system has the most passengers and there is a need for more capacity growth.
Council agreed in a unanimously vote over a year ago to back staff’s Rapid Ready Report on transit that supported the development of LRT. Councillors over the last year have returned to the transit issue a number of times, reiterating their support for LRT, but only if the province provides 100 per cent funding.
But over the ensuing months, say Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark, who is also running for mayor, the public hasn’t properly examined the report. He said some members of the public believe that once the province provides the capital funding, construction on the LRT will nearly immediately begin.
Under a series of questions to Don Hull, manager of transit, it will take up to seven years to design the LRT system, and possibly up to a decade to build it. During those seven to 10 years, the estimated $1 billion cost for LRT is expected to increase by another $16 million.
“It depends on the time and money,” said Hull.
Clark said the rapid ready report proposes that Hamiltonsupport LRT, but it needs to grow the ridership and transit system.
“(It says) to do it in a methodical way,” says Clark. “It’s a prudent course of action (to) prepare for LRT.”
Hullagreed with the report’s course of action, saying it recommends the city “start at the bottom and work up.”
So far, Hamilton staff has completed about 30 per cent of the design for a LRT system.
There are also questions by Clark whether Metrolinx, once it provides funding for the project under an agreement with the city, will operate the project, and if any revenue will even be distributed to Hamilton. Hull said the city has yet to discuss the issue with Metrolinx.
Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, who remains skeptical of LRT because of the disruption it will cause businesses along King Street due to the limited access to their businesses, said before further discussion about the future of rapid transit in Hamilton, the city needs answers.
“We need firm timelines, we need firm budget numbers,” said Collins.
Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson was concerned politicians were sending mixed messages to the province again. He pointed out council made a decision after over three years of debate to support LRT.
“It worries me you will confuse the province,” saidFerguson.
“Why the heck would we change our minds?”
After two hours of debate, councillors ended their discussion without a decision.