Hamilton councillors want say on province’s pitch for shorter LRT line
Partridge says proposal is ‘completely different,’ but mayor says there’s no ‘material change’
Teviah Moro Hamilton Spectator Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Mayor Fred Eisenberger faces a tough sell for some city councillors as he holds out hope a shorter version of LRT gains political traction.
The city’s “official position” has been to support a fully funded LRT on the Main-King corridor, and the province’s proposal for a truncated route isn’t a “material change,” Eisenberger said Tuesday.
But councillors argued that’s not the case after learning of the Ontario government’s proposal to put $1 billion in provincial funds toward a potential McMaster-to-Gage Avenue line hinging on $1.5 billion in federal support.
“To me, it needs to come back to council to be voted on,” Coun. Judi Partridge said.
What the province is now pitching — after axing the original McMaster-to-Eastgate Square route in December 2019 — is “completely different,” said the Flamborough councillor, a steadfast critic of the project.
Coun. Brad Clark figured a “number of councillors” concerned about potential costs and the shortened route would want to revisit the debate.
Asked whether the proposed truncated line and funding model need council’s approval, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney was unclear.
“We have initiated engagement with the City of Hamilton on this matter and are looking forward to working with them to see how they can support the development of a viable LRT for Hamilton.”
Coun. Chad Collins, another consistent LRT critic, wouldn’t hazard to guess what council’s next move might be, but noted he’s no fan of the latest proposal, either. “It seems like half the project for double the cost,” said the Ward 5 councillor, noting he hadn’t yet examined the latest proposal’s details.
Even if it’s provincial and federal dollars at play, it still makes sense to invest in beefed-up bus service to serve more parts of the city, he said. “I don’t understand what the obsession is with getting this thing past the finish line with blinders on.”
Clark, who represents Stoney Creek, echoed that sentiment, arguing a shorter LRT line would only serve a “very small population.”
Partridge asked whether taxpayers would have to fund a “train for McMaster University.”
“It doesn’t make sense for me,” she said.
Eisenberger acknowledged opponents could try to “undo” the city’s supportive position, but argued that would be contrary to the “strong LRT mandate residents gave council in the last election.”
“I think the majority of residents want us to get on with this project,” said the mayor, who ran against anti-LRT candidate Vito Sgro.
Coun. Jason Farr contended more than a “billion bucks in LRT-supported development” in the downtown already is reason enough to back even a scaled-back version.
“It will prove itself,” Farr added, acknowledging a potential second leg past Gage might take “years more than we ever anticipated.”
Coun. Nrinder Nann, who also noted she still needed to examine the provincial proposal closely, said she would have preferred a commitment to the “entire project” as identified through study for the city’s 10-year transit strategy.
“Residents in the east end of our city deserve robust transit options, now more than ever,” the Ward 3 councillor said. “That said, it is welcome news that the province is committing to investing in higher-order transit in Hamilton.”
Coun. John-Paul Danko, an LRT supporter, said he’d like assurances that a shortened line is only the first stage of extensions to the east and bus rapid transit. “I just want to make sure that it’s not just going to end up stopping at Gage, and we’re never going to finish it. I have no interest in pursuing that,” the Mountain councillor said.
— With files from Matthew Van Dongen, The Hamilton Spectator
Teviah Moro is a Hamilton-based reporter at The Spectator. Reach him via email: email@example.com