Dreschel: LRT ‘full steam ahead’

Opinion Jun 12, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

LRT versus BRT. Main/King versus Main end-to-end. More buses for the Mountain versus feeding the LRT line.

Given the raging debate around these and other opposing views, it's easy to think the $1 billion LRT project is now mired in the political mud.

It isn't. Work hasn't stopped for a moment.

"It's full steam ahead," says city manager Chris Murray.

"We have a memorandum of understanding with Metrolinx and the province which spells out the things we're going to work on.

"The province is investing money right now in the positions that are part of the city's LRT office, and they are spending money on evolving this thing."

That means design work, traffic impact and expropriation studies, zoning changes, and community consultation are all chugging along and will continue to do so unless city council gives staff directions to stop.

That hasn't happened and, chances are, it won't.

At this Wednesday's general issues meeting, Sam Merulla intends to defer his controversial motion to reaffirm support for the project until the fall.

Merulla's motion not only exposed major cracks in council's support, it kick-started the intense community debate, a debate Merulla argues needs to be heard sooner than later.

"If there are issues, let's deal with them now," he says.

That's exactly what's happening. When he does bring forward his motion again, Merulla fully expects some councillors to propose amendments spelling out conditions for their support.

Some see all this talk and manoeuvring as rank indecision. Even the mayor of Ottawa recently seemed to be accusing councillors of dithering.

Murray doesn't buy it. "I don't see this as dithering. There are important questions that I know they have in their minds and I know they're hearing from their constituents."

Liberal MP and former mayor Bob Bratina made a similar point in a letter to the editor in Saturday's Spectator.

"The notion by others that we need to 'get our act together' is a rush to judgement council is not currently willing to take until important questions are answered," Bratina wrote.

The truth is, many of the questions being asked — the impact on HSR revenues, how light rail benefits the whole city — might have been addressed if Mayor Fred Eisenberger's citizens' transit panel had been given a chance to fulfil its originally conceived mandate.

Eisenberger envisioned the panel scrutinizing the proposed project, including comparing the benefits of LRT versus BRT, and making a recommendation to council.

That didn't happen because the province came forward with its $1-billion handout, overtaking the panel's work and shortchanging the community of a nonpartisan lay person assessment of options.

When formed with a watered-down mandate, the transit panel presented council with guidelines. But the big issues they were to study never got aired because the province, stunningly, took the previous council at its word and delivered the requested full capital funding.

Well, we're making up for it now, aren't we? We're experiencing full-bore community engagement. And why not? Surely questions and doubts are to be expected on a project of this size and impact. As the former director of the controversial Red Hill Valley expressway project, Murray knows that better than anyone.

"There were questions right up until the shovels went into the ground on Red Hill and there were still questions after we already had hundreds of millions of dollars out the door and awarded contracts."

He expects the same for LRT.

"If anyone thinks that in the next week, month, year that the questions are going to stop — they're never going to stop. They'll probably still be going after the thing is built and operating.

"That's the nature of a democracy — that people have a right to ask questions and receive answers."

Amen to that. And who can reasonably object to either a councillor or citizen raising questions and seeking information when no implementation work is being delayed because of it?

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

Dreschel: LRT ‘full steam ahead’

Opinion Jun 12, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

LRT versus BRT. Main/King versus Main end-to-end. More buses for the Mountain versus feeding the LRT line.

Given the raging debate around these and other opposing views, it's easy to think the $1 billion LRT project is now mired in the political mud.

It isn't. Work hasn't stopped for a moment.

"It's full steam ahead," says city manager Chris Murray.

"We have a memorandum of understanding with Metrolinx and the province which spells out the things we're going to work on.

"The province is investing money right now in the positions that are part of the city's LRT office, and they are spending money on evolving this thing."

That means design work, traffic impact and expropriation studies, zoning changes, and community consultation are all chugging along and will continue to do so unless city council gives staff directions to stop.

That hasn't happened and, chances are, it won't.

At this Wednesday's general issues meeting, Sam Merulla intends to defer his controversial motion to reaffirm support for the project until the fall.

Merulla's motion not only exposed major cracks in council's support, it kick-started the intense community debate, a debate Merulla argues needs to be heard sooner than later.

"If there are issues, let's deal with them now," he says.

That's exactly what's happening. When he does bring forward his motion again, Merulla fully expects some councillors to propose amendments spelling out conditions for their support.

Some see all this talk and manoeuvring as rank indecision. Even the mayor of Ottawa recently seemed to be accusing councillors of dithering.

Murray doesn't buy it. "I don't see this as dithering. There are important questions that I know they have in their minds and I know they're hearing from their constituents."

Liberal MP and former mayor Bob Bratina made a similar point in a letter to the editor in Saturday's Spectator.

"The notion by others that we need to 'get our act together' is a rush to judgement council is not currently willing to take until important questions are answered," Bratina wrote.

The truth is, many of the questions being asked — the impact on HSR revenues, how light rail benefits the whole city — might have been addressed if Mayor Fred Eisenberger's citizens' transit panel had been given a chance to fulfil its originally conceived mandate.

Eisenberger envisioned the panel scrutinizing the proposed project, including comparing the benefits of LRT versus BRT, and making a recommendation to council.

That didn't happen because the province came forward with its $1-billion handout, overtaking the panel's work and shortchanging the community of a nonpartisan lay person assessment of options.

When formed with a watered-down mandate, the transit panel presented council with guidelines. But the big issues they were to study never got aired because the province, stunningly, took the previous council at its word and delivered the requested full capital funding.

Well, we're making up for it now, aren't we? We're experiencing full-bore community engagement. And why not? Surely questions and doubts are to be expected on a project of this size and impact. As the former director of the controversial Red Hill Valley expressway project, Murray knows that better than anyone.

"There were questions right up until the shovels went into the ground on Red Hill and there were still questions after we already had hundreds of millions of dollars out the door and awarded contracts."

He expects the same for LRT.

"If anyone thinks that in the next week, month, year that the questions are going to stop — they're never going to stop. They'll probably still be going after the thing is built and operating.

"That's the nature of a democracy — that people have a right to ask questions and receive answers."

Amen to that. And who can reasonably object to either a councillor or citizen raising questions and seeking information when no implementation work is being delayed because of it?

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

Dreschel: LRT ‘full steam ahead’

Opinion Jun 12, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

LRT versus BRT. Main/King versus Main end-to-end. More buses for the Mountain versus feeding the LRT line.

Given the raging debate around these and other opposing views, it's easy to think the $1 billion LRT project is now mired in the political mud.

It isn't. Work hasn't stopped for a moment.

"It's full steam ahead," says city manager Chris Murray.

"We have a memorandum of understanding with Metrolinx and the province which spells out the things we're going to work on.

"The province is investing money right now in the positions that are part of the city's LRT office, and they are spending money on evolving this thing."

That means design work, traffic impact and expropriation studies, zoning changes, and community consultation are all chugging along and will continue to do so unless city council gives staff directions to stop.

That hasn't happened and, chances are, it won't.

At this Wednesday's general issues meeting, Sam Merulla intends to defer his controversial motion to reaffirm support for the project until the fall.

Merulla's motion not only exposed major cracks in council's support, it kick-started the intense community debate, a debate Merulla argues needs to be heard sooner than later.

"If there are issues, let's deal with them now," he says.

That's exactly what's happening. When he does bring forward his motion again, Merulla fully expects some councillors to propose amendments spelling out conditions for their support.

Some see all this talk and manoeuvring as rank indecision. Even the mayor of Ottawa recently seemed to be accusing councillors of dithering.

Murray doesn't buy it. "I don't see this as dithering. There are important questions that I know they have in their minds and I know they're hearing from their constituents."

Liberal MP and former mayor Bob Bratina made a similar point in a letter to the editor in Saturday's Spectator.

"The notion by others that we need to 'get our act together' is a rush to judgement council is not currently willing to take until important questions are answered," Bratina wrote.

The truth is, many of the questions being asked — the impact on HSR revenues, how light rail benefits the whole city — might have been addressed if Mayor Fred Eisenberger's citizens' transit panel had been given a chance to fulfil its originally conceived mandate.

Eisenberger envisioned the panel scrutinizing the proposed project, including comparing the benefits of LRT versus BRT, and making a recommendation to council.

That didn't happen because the province came forward with its $1-billion handout, overtaking the panel's work and shortchanging the community of a nonpartisan lay person assessment of options.

When formed with a watered-down mandate, the transit panel presented council with guidelines. But the big issues they were to study never got aired because the province, stunningly, took the previous council at its word and delivered the requested full capital funding.

Well, we're making up for it now, aren't we? We're experiencing full-bore community engagement. And why not? Surely questions and doubts are to be expected on a project of this size and impact. As the former director of the controversial Red Hill Valley expressway project, Murray knows that better than anyone.

"There were questions right up until the shovels went into the ground on Red Hill and there were still questions after we already had hundreds of millions of dollars out the door and awarded contracts."

He expects the same for LRT.

"If anyone thinks that in the next week, month, year that the questions are going to stop — they're never going to stop. They'll probably still be going after the thing is built and operating.

"That's the nature of a democracy — that people have a right to ask questions and receive answers."

Amen to that. And who can reasonably object to either a councillor or citizen raising questions and seeking information when no implementation work is being delayed because of it?

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel