‘What if I wanted bus rapid transit?’ — Hamilton council not ready to endorse fast-tracked LRT pitched by province
The city — and the public — can comment on a proposed provincial regulation to enshrine LRT as a ‘priority project’ until April 23. But councillors are demanding more information before weighing in.
Matthew Van Dongen Hamilton SpectatorThursday, April 8, 2021
City councillors have asked for more time to weigh in on a provincial plan to designate Hamilton’s still-theoretical LRT a “priority project” under the law — and at least a few are ready to derail the proposed light rail resurrection.
The Tory government announced in February it is willing to pay $1 billion to build a shorter version of the LRT it controversially cancelled 15 months ago — but only if the federal Liberals cover the rest of the tab.
Ontario is submitting LRT as a “priority project” for federal funding and proposing to use that designation to speed up construction under a new law, the Building Transit Faster Act. Council has until April 23 to comment on the regulation.
But some councillors complained Wednesday they don’t know enough about evolving provincial plans to endorse or reject a resurrected LRT, let alone comment on a law designed to fast-track construction.
“What if I didn’t want LRT on the priority list? What if I wanted bus rapid transit?” asked Coun. Brad Clark, a longtime project opponent. Councillors Judi Partridge, Tom Jackson and Brenda Johnson also reiterated concerns or outright opposition to a resurrected LRT line at Wednesday’s meeting.
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, a past LRT supporter, questioned why council has not been consulted on major changes the province is proposing to the original 14-kilometre line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.
In February, the province suggested the first phase of LRT could end near Gage Park in order to save money. But even a shortened line would cost $2.5 billion-plus to build. “I need to know whether we’re going to be on the hook (for cost overruns,)” Ferguson said.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who is championing LRT, argued ongoing negotiations to resurrect the project “shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone” given the findings of a provincial task force last year recommending rapid transit.
He argued a majority of residents reiterated “widespread” support for LRT via the 2018 election. Nonetheless, he said council can have a “more fulsome discussion” about LRT developments if the ministry agrees to virtually attend an upcoming city meeting as requested last month.
Councillors voted Wednesday asking that the commenting deadline for the LRT regulation be extended until after that requested meeting happens.
A Transportation Ministry spokesperson said via email a representative “would be pleased to attend” an upcoming meeting, but no date has been set.
Matthew Van Dongen is a Hamilton-based reporter covering transportation for The Spectator. Reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org