Hamilton Mountain Coun. Terry Whitehead is a politician that some people love to hate.
So it was no surprise his news conference about light rail transit at city hall Feb. 9 turned into a three-ring circus when Whitehead’s nemesis, downtown Coun. Matthew Green, and former mayoral candidate Edward Graydon entered the fray.
Regardless of the event’s ridiculousness, Whitehead’s core message of skepticism for the $1 billion transit project shouldn’t be ignored. The councillor represents a sizable number of Hamilton residents in the suburban areas who remain unconvinced this project will benefit them, their neighbourhoods, or even their city.
This is the largest project Hamilton is undertaking and will have not only immediate but also far-reaching consequences to the city and community for years to come. So it is imperative that the city gets the project right so taxpayers are not footing a monumental bill for a transit white elephant.
When Metrolinx announced last week it was scrapping the James Street North spur, it raised serious concerns about the viability of the LRT project itself. Despite pro-LRT supporters who believe criticizing the project is nothing short of heresy, scrubbing the James Street North spur reveals that maybe the LRT project isn’t as financially beneficial to the downtown as has been argued.
The decision also shows that Metrolinx recognizes that for the LRT to be successful, it needs the buy-in of the entire community and not just parts of it. A rapid bus system from the waterfront to the Hamilton Airport has been a part of Hamilton’s transit master plan. It shows that for the LRT to be financially and community successful, it has to connect with the suburban areas.
Questions still persist. Why isn’t the LRT being extended to Eastgate Square from the Queenston traffic circle, its original destination? At least from Eastgate, there would be existing transit connections to take people from the LRT to the soon-to-be-built GO Centennial Station.
Other questions about the LRT continue to haunt the project. The operating cost for the LRT is estimated to be greater than Hamilton’s current transit operating budget, the issue of debt financing of the LRT project and which agency will eventually be in control of the service.
The LRT remains a polarizing issue within the Hamilton community that continues to divide communities and politicians. As the project creeps closer to reality, those divisions continue to widen for political gain.
Hamilton doesn’t need a cheerleader standing on the sidelines in the LRT discussion; it needs a quarterback to lead a united team.