There shouldn’t be a great surprise to discover that Metrolinx is re-examining the value of building the James Street North spur line from King Street to the waterfront as revealed in media reports last week.
At the time of the $1 billion capital funding announcement almost two years ago, Hamilton had yet to conduct a required environmental assessment on the spur line. The addition of the spur would be at the expense of the LRT’s main route by cutting its eastern terminus from Eastgate Square to Queenston Circle. The move left some residents questioning the logic of abandoning an easy route to the future Confederation GO station on Centennial Parkway.
Since the Ontario announcement, an environmental assessment study has been done on the spur line, and all indications are provincial officials don’t like the numbers.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who says he and his council colleagues always have embraced a comprehensive transportation plan for the entire city, applauded this review by Metrolinx.
“There has been some rethinking about making sure we get maximum value out of this $1 billion investment,” he said.
For years councillors and some officials have argued that a bus rapid transit system would provide a more comprehensive transportation network for all residents of Hamilton. The idea is the so-called BLAST network would give residents better transportation options across the city from east to west, across the Mountain, to Waterdown and from the Mountain to the harbour.
LRT dreamers have always trumpeted a system that would provide enhanced economic development and the image of a progressive and technically enhanced community. Now the reality of building an LRT is invading the blue sky tinged bubbles of LRT proponents. To provide better transportation service and feed the LRT, you need customers from the suburban area. A bus rapid transit service along the James Street North and Upper James Street corridor would provide that needed revenue stream. It would also establish that vital connection among bus, LRT and GO transit options that Metrolinx, and transportation gurus so often preach.
The possibility that Metrolinx may scrap the spur line seems to be a vindication for suburban councillors’ argument that the LRT may not meet all the transformative economic and community functions proponents have been arguing about.
Still, whatever happens to the LRT and spur line, will be up to Metrolinx and the province which yet again have been as opaque as can be as they scan the tea leaves to determine the future of Hamilton’s transportation community.