by Teviah Moro The Hamilton Spectator
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said Monday he has spoken to federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna in the wake of the province’s decision to pull the plug on the Metrolinx-led project. – John Rennison,The Hamilton Spectator file photo
Homes expropriated by Metrolinx along King Street and now sit boarded up and empty. – Barry Gray,The Hamilton Spectator file photo 1 / 2
The Ontario government has killed Hamilton’s LRT project, but Mayor Fred Eisenberger is hoping a Hail Mary to Ottawa might keep it in the game.
Eisenberger said Monday he has spoken to federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna in the wake of the province’s decision to pull the plug on the Metrolinx-led project.
During those talks, McKenna, who hails from Hamilton but represents Ottawa Centre, “expressed her support for moving forward with LRT,” the mayor said. “But no commitment to direct dollars from the feds at this point.”
Two weeks ago, provincial Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced the province was cancelling the long-planned project because it had become unaffordable.
The city could still have $1 billion for transportation infrastructure, but not the 14-kilometre line due ballooning costs, she said. Mulroney said the project is expected to cost $5.5 billion over 30 years to build, operate and maintain — figures that LRT supporters have argued are suspect.
The cancellation comes after more than a decade of planning, more than $100 million spent, and just months away from selecting one of three shortlisted bidders for the contract.
McKenna’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday, but local Liberal MP Filomena Tassi, also minister of labour, said she reached out to her federal colleague about the axed initiative.
Mulroney has said the province will form a task force and report back before the end of February with a list of alternative projects.
Her office, however, has sent mixed messages about whether LRT (as planned or modified) could still emerge as an option.
Spokesperson Callum Elder reiterated in an email to The Spectator “procurement for the Hamilton LRT project has been cancelled as the project became unaffordable.”
In an interview with CHCH, his boss said if the task force “says the priority is an LRT,” the province “has a billion dollars available to commit to that project.”
Mulroney also said her government is open to working with the federal government on the file.
McMaster political scientist Henry Jacek believes there’s a “50/50 chance” the three levels of government will work something out to revive the LRT project in the next year.
Jacek said the federal Liberals generally will be “quite willing to spend money on highly visible projects” due to their minority government status.
Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford — experiencing a low ebb in popularity — and his Progressive Conservatives may be “a bit surprised” by backlash from the business community. “I think they might be happy if they can be bailed out by the federal government.”
Who will sit on the task force is unknown, with Mulroney’s office only saying details will be shared imminently.
Eisenberger said the minister contacted him Monday and invited city manager Janette Smith to take part. “I am not informed on who the other participants are but am advised they are Hamiltonians with background in labour, business and municipal government.”
The terms of reference for the task force are also unknown, Eisenberger added, questioning its role “given that LRT has been studied for 12 years and was determined by Metrolinx to have the best benefits case for transportation and development.”
Though trumpeted by many as a city-building project that has already pumped development and investment dollars into Hamilton, its appeal is far from universal.
A cadre of detractors on city council have questioned its worth compared to other options such as bus rapid transit and fretted about local taxpayers ending up paying some of the freight.
Coun. Judi Partridge, who represents Flamborough, issued a statement praising Mulroney’s $1-billion offer as a “once in a lifetime windfall that will benefit every corner of our city, not just the downtown corridor.”
Some tenants who faced displacement with Metrolinx buying more than 60 properties along the King Street to make way for the line are also celebrating LRT’s death.
Sharon Miller recently told The Spectator it was the “best Christmas gift ever,” saying she looks forward to staying in her $550-a-month rental unit.