No guarantee divided Hamilton council would support a resurrected LRT — even if it was offered

News Aug 27, 2020 by Matthew Van Dongen Hamilton Spectator

Don’t expect a wary city council to unanimously welcome back LRT even if — an awfully big “if” — the province offers to resurrect the cancelled project.

The Spectator published exclusive details Tuesday of a previously confidential LIUNA proposal to build the long-planned 14-kilometre light rail transit line for $3.5 billion using a mix of public and private cash — ideally, without a municipal capital contribution.

The Progressive Conservative government, which killed a Hamilton LRT project mid-procurement in December, is now studying its own task force recommendations to spend $1 billion on either light rail or bus rapid transit in the city.

But some councillors say the pandemic crisis and a slew of “conflicting” budget estimates for the axed LRT have changed the political outlook on council for a project that was controversial at the best of times.

Light rail has always had solid support from at least six council members, including Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

But a survey of councillors and their recent public statements suggests at least half of council’s 16 members now either publicly oppose LRT, have concerns based on cost or want to look at bus rapid transit instead. (The Spectator is still waiting to hear from some councillors.)

“For anyone who has a clear grasp of municipal finances it’s more than obvious that the LRT project is dead,” said Coun. Chad Collins. The Ward 5 councillor reluctantly voted to support the project in 2017 but now argues any pandemic stimulus funding should go to dire needs like housing, rather than “feel-good capital projects.”

Coun. Tom Jackson, another past soft-supporter of LRT, said he would now “prefer” to use provincial rapid transit cash to expand electric, express bus service “from coast to coast” across the city. “COVID has changed so much for us,” he said.

Councillors Brad Clark, Maria Pearson and Brenda Johnson have all said they want to explore bus rapid transit. (BRT is usually defined as express buses running in separated lanes with platforms or stations.)

Coun. Judi Partridge recently wrote an opinion piece urging the city to abandon LRT, while Coun. Terry Whitehead wrote to the provincial transit task force in March urging support for bus rapid transit.

A longtime LRT supporter, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson also said Wednesday he is now uncertain about the project — in part over wildly varying cost estimates cited by the province versus LRT supporters. Ferguson said he reviewed LIUNA’s proposal, but it did not answer the “one important question: What will the City of Hamilton share need to be?”

LIUNA vice-president Joe Mancinelli said the “the goal” of Fengate’s research was to find capital funding sources that require little or no city contribution, like private investment, infrastructure bank loans and federal-provincial grants. Operating costs, however, were not the focus of the review.

It doesn’t help that confusion remains over what a LRT project would actually cost.

The previous Liberal government promised to cover 100 per cent of capital costs and publicly referred to Hamilton’s LRT as having an “up to $1 billion” budget. Then Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced in December the project was cancelled because of a budget that had ballooned to $5.5 billion.

Critics accused the Tories of comparing apples to oranges — in particular, tallying up all costs over 30 years of a private consortium building and running the transit line, including life-cycle, financing and operating costs. Ontario has refused to release a full accounting of its estimate.

The province also claims, again without explanation, that it would cost the city $1 billion just to run LRT.

Eisenberger, a staunch LRT supporter, said he “always” understood the 30-year cost of building and maintaining the project would be higher than the “base capital costs” advertised by the former Liberal government.

He argued that former government pledged to cover additional life-cycle and other building-related costs, “rather than the local taxpayer.” A leaked Metrolinx memo from last fall does show a government-approved $3.6-billion budget for project capital, life-cycle and financing costs.

Eisenberger said he is hopeful the federal government will help fund LRT if asked — but added council cannot debate any transit options without knowing the province’s plans.

The government has had five months to review the findings of its transportation task force, the mayor noted. “It’s definitely time for them to announce their findings,” he said.

Matthew Van Dongen is a Hamilton-based reporter covering transportation for The Spectator. Reach him via email: mvandongen@thespec.com

No guarantee divided Hamilton council would support a resurrected LRT — even if it was offered

Fans of Hamilton’s cancelled LRT are hoping to get the project back on track — but pandemic deficits and confusing project cost estimates have eroded council support

News Aug 27, 2020 by Matthew Van Dongen Hamilton Spectator

Don’t expect a wary city council to unanimously welcome back LRT even if — an awfully big “if” — the province offers to resurrect the cancelled project.

The Spectator published exclusive details Tuesday of a previously confidential LIUNA proposal to build the long-planned 14-kilometre light rail transit line for $3.5 billion using a mix of public and private cash — ideally, without a municipal capital contribution.

The Progressive Conservative government, which killed a Hamilton LRT project mid-procurement in December, is now studying its own task force recommendations to spend $1 billion on either light rail or bus rapid transit in the city.

But some councillors say the pandemic crisis and a slew of “conflicting” budget estimates for the axed LRT have changed the political outlook on council for a project that was controversial at the best of times.

Light rail has always had solid support from at least six council members, including Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

But a survey of councillors and their recent public statements suggests at least half of council’s 16 members now either publicly oppose LRT, have concerns based on cost or want to look at bus rapid transit instead. (The Spectator is still waiting to hear from some councillors.)

“For anyone who has a clear grasp of municipal finances it’s more than obvious that the LRT project is dead,” said Coun. Chad Collins. The Ward 5 councillor reluctantly voted to support the project in 2017 but now argues any pandemic stimulus funding should go to dire needs like housing, rather than “feel-good capital projects.”

Coun. Tom Jackson, another past soft-supporter of LRT, said he would now “prefer” to use provincial rapid transit cash to expand electric, express bus service “from coast to coast” across the city. “COVID has changed so much for us,” he said.

Councillors Brad Clark, Maria Pearson and Brenda Johnson have all said they want to explore bus rapid transit. (BRT is usually defined as express buses running in separated lanes with platforms or stations.)

Coun. Judi Partridge recently wrote an opinion piece urging the city to abandon LRT, while Coun. Terry Whitehead wrote to the provincial transit task force in March urging support for bus rapid transit.

A longtime LRT supporter, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson also said Wednesday he is now uncertain about the project — in part over wildly varying cost estimates cited by the province versus LRT supporters. Ferguson said he reviewed LIUNA’s proposal, but it did not answer the “one important question: What will the City of Hamilton share need to be?”

LIUNA vice-president Joe Mancinelli said the “the goal” of Fengate’s research was to find capital funding sources that require little or no city contribution, like private investment, infrastructure bank loans and federal-provincial grants. Operating costs, however, were not the focus of the review.

It doesn’t help that confusion remains over what a LRT project would actually cost.

The previous Liberal government promised to cover 100 per cent of capital costs and publicly referred to Hamilton’s LRT as having an “up to $1 billion” budget. Then Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced in December the project was cancelled because of a budget that had ballooned to $5.5 billion.

Critics accused the Tories of comparing apples to oranges — in particular, tallying up all costs over 30 years of a private consortium building and running the transit line, including life-cycle, financing and operating costs. Ontario has refused to release a full accounting of its estimate.

The province also claims, again without explanation, that it would cost the city $1 billion just to run LRT.

Eisenberger, a staunch LRT supporter, said he “always” understood the 30-year cost of building and maintaining the project would be higher than the “base capital costs” advertised by the former Liberal government.

He argued that former government pledged to cover additional life-cycle and other building-related costs, “rather than the local taxpayer.” A leaked Metrolinx memo from last fall does show a government-approved $3.6-billion budget for project capital, life-cycle and financing costs.

Eisenberger said he is hopeful the federal government will help fund LRT if asked — but added council cannot debate any transit options without knowing the province’s plans.

The government has had five months to review the findings of its transportation task force, the mayor noted. “It’s definitely time for them to announce their findings,” he said.

Matthew Van Dongen is a Hamilton-based reporter covering transportation for The Spectator. Reach him via email: mvandongen@thespec.com

No guarantee divided Hamilton council would support a resurrected LRT — even if it was offered

Fans of Hamilton’s cancelled LRT are hoping to get the project back on track — but pandemic deficits and confusing project cost estimates have eroded council support

News Aug 27, 2020 by Matthew Van Dongen Hamilton Spectator

Don’t expect a wary city council to unanimously welcome back LRT even if — an awfully big “if” — the province offers to resurrect the cancelled project.

The Spectator published exclusive details Tuesday of a previously confidential LIUNA proposal to build the long-planned 14-kilometre light rail transit line for $3.5 billion using a mix of public and private cash — ideally, without a municipal capital contribution.

The Progressive Conservative government, which killed a Hamilton LRT project mid-procurement in December, is now studying its own task force recommendations to spend $1 billion on either light rail or bus rapid transit in the city.

But some councillors say the pandemic crisis and a slew of “conflicting” budget estimates for the axed LRT have changed the political outlook on council for a project that was controversial at the best of times.

Light rail has always had solid support from at least six council members, including Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

But a survey of councillors and their recent public statements suggests at least half of council’s 16 members now either publicly oppose LRT, have concerns based on cost or want to look at bus rapid transit instead. (The Spectator is still waiting to hear from some councillors.)

“For anyone who has a clear grasp of municipal finances it’s more than obvious that the LRT project is dead,” said Coun. Chad Collins. The Ward 5 councillor reluctantly voted to support the project in 2017 but now argues any pandemic stimulus funding should go to dire needs like housing, rather than “feel-good capital projects.”

Coun. Tom Jackson, another past soft-supporter of LRT, said he would now “prefer” to use provincial rapid transit cash to expand electric, express bus service “from coast to coast” across the city. “COVID has changed so much for us,” he said.

Councillors Brad Clark, Maria Pearson and Brenda Johnson have all said they want to explore bus rapid transit. (BRT is usually defined as express buses running in separated lanes with platforms or stations.)

Coun. Judi Partridge recently wrote an opinion piece urging the city to abandon LRT, while Coun. Terry Whitehead wrote to the provincial transit task force in March urging support for bus rapid transit.

A longtime LRT supporter, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson also said Wednesday he is now uncertain about the project — in part over wildly varying cost estimates cited by the province versus LRT supporters. Ferguson said he reviewed LIUNA’s proposal, but it did not answer the “one important question: What will the City of Hamilton share need to be?”

LIUNA vice-president Joe Mancinelli said the “the goal” of Fengate’s research was to find capital funding sources that require little or no city contribution, like private investment, infrastructure bank loans and federal-provincial grants. Operating costs, however, were not the focus of the review.

It doesn’t help that confusion remains over what a LRT project would actually cost.

The previous Liberal government promised to cover 100 per cent of capital costs and publicly referred to Hamilton’s LRT as having an “up to $1 billion” budget. Then Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced in December the project was cancelled because of a budget that had ballooned to $5.5 billion.

Critics accused the Tories of comparing apples to oranges — in particular, tallying up all costs over 30 years of a private consortium building and running the transit line, including life-cycle, financing and operating costs. Ontario has refused to release a full accounting of its estimate.

The province also claims, again without explanation, that it would cost the city $1 billion just to run LRT.

Eisenberger, a staunch LRT supporter, said he “always” understood the 30-year cost of building and maintaining the project would be higher than the “base capital costs” advertised by the former Liberal government.

He argued that former government pledged to cover additional life-cycle and other building-related costs, “rather than the local taxpayer.” A leaked Metrolinx memo from last fall does show a government-approved $3.6-billion budget for project capital, life-cycle and financing costs.

Eisenberger said he is hopeful the federal government will help fund LRT if asked — but added council cannot debate any transit options without knowing the province’s plans.

The government has had five months to review the findings of its transportation task force, the mayor noted. “It’s definitely time for them to announce their findings,” he said.

Matthew Van Dongen is a Hamilton-based reporter covering transportation for The Spectator. Reach him via email: mvandongen@thespec.com