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Metrolinx searches for cash to pay for LRT

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Metrolinx’s president says the future ofHamilton’s light-rail transit will be contingent on raising enough revenue to pay for the projected $1 billion project.

Bruce McCuaig said to pay for the city’s LRT, Metrolinx will have to find new non-fare revenue, which could include a host of areas, including raising license fees, development charges, and tolls.

“It’s important for us to have a discussion and come to some agreement on how we will pay for this kind of infrastructure,” said McCuaig, who was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Sustainable Mobility Summit. The city and Commuter Transportation of Canada hosted the four-day event from Nov. 4 to 7.

He said raising the non-fare revenue could eventually be done either at the provincial or municipal levels.

“Those revenue tools might be more locally generated and some of them more provincially generated, but we need to have that conversation,” he said.

Metrolinx is required under provincial law to provideOntarioofficials with an investment strategy before June, 2013. The idea is to propose a sustainable and dedicated funding program for its Big Move transportation document, with a minimum investment of $2 billion to $2.5 billion annually.

For the past five yearsHamiltonofficials, and transportation proponents have been advocating for the construction of an LRT system in an effort to revitalize the downtown. City officials have identified the 13 km B-Line fromMcMaster University to Eastgate Square, and an A-Line from the airport to the waterfront as desirable for an LRT system. So far, about $9 million has been invested in preliminary research for a LRT project with about $3 million contributed from Metrolinx. Estimates range from $900 million to about $1 billion to build an LRT system. In September 2011, councillors approved a motion requesting full provincial funding for two LRT lines in Hamilton.

This past October, councillors approved a motion supporting the idea to investigate the feasibility of LRT for the city. Transit director Don Hull is overseeing a comprehensive report that is expected to detail the city’s transportation needs, including a LRT system. The report, expected either in December or early January, will provide short, medium and long-term investment strategies. Hamilton officials are still crafting an LRT project definition, which includes planning, engineering and design. The report will be submitted to Metrolinx.

Still, there remains a fear city staff are cool to the idea of LRT. Mayor Bob Bratina at a recent Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce luncheon said he was reluctant to support a LRT system because of the potential cost, and there hasn’t been a groundswell of support from the community.

The city has also disbanded its rapid transit office, and merged it into a new transportation department, overseen byHull.

In August, Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli indicated that if an LRT system forHamiltonis approved, residents would have to pay a portion of the cost.

McCuaig, though, said a new funding strategy needs to be established by governments in order to pay for all of Metrolinx’s projects, which are projected to cost about $50 billion.

McCuaig said the Hamilton LRT project remains a high priority for Metrolinx, and in the corporation’s Big Move strategy, which proposed building it within the next 15 years.

Meanwhile, construction onHamilton’s new GO station as James Street north is expected to begin in March, 2014, and the first phase is projected to be completed by June 2015 in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games. The first phase will include the station and platforms. The second phase, to be completed by 2017, will involve a new bridge and tunnel.

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