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City awaits transit cash

Waterloo, Ottawa get millions while Metrolinx funding has slowed.

By Emma Reilly

Published in The Hamilton Spectator on June 29, 2010

While Hamilton waits to learn the future of its rapid transit projects, Waterloo became the latest city to receive transit funding yesterday.

The provincial government pledged $300 million to build light rail transit (LRT) between Kitchener and Waterloo and bus rapid transit (BRT) to Cambridge.

Waterloo is the second city to receive funding this month. The federal government committed $600 million to Ottawa's rapid transit system on June 8, matching a contribution from the province announced in December.

Meanwhile, Hamilton is still waiting to hear whether Metrolinx -- the arms-length provincial agency that manages transit in the Hamilton and Greater Toronto areas -- will recommend LRT or (BRT) and how these projects will be funded.

Though Metrolinx released a study in February saying that LRT would produce the greatest benefits for the city compared to BRT, Hamilton is still waiting to learn which option it will receive.

Currently, the city is undergoing a year-long LRT study that will look at everything from station location to the technology to run the trains. But neither Metrolinx nor the province has indicated any timeline on a funding announcement for Hamilton.

Jill Stephen, the city's director of strategic planning and rapid transit, said Waterloo's funding announcement doesn't affect Hamilton because that region doesn't fall under the Metrolinx umbrella.

"It's a different pot of money than Metrolinx money," she said.

But while the provincial and federal governments continue to commit money to other cities, funding to Metrolinx projects has slowed.

Metrolinx has identified five of its 15 Greater Toronto Hamilton Area projects as its top priorities -- four LRT lines in Toronto and a bus rapid transit line in York Region. The province committed $8.15 billion to the plan.

But in this year's provincial budget, the province announced it was cutting $4 billion from its disbursements over the first five years of construction. As these projects are also first in line for funding, it leaves Hamilton's rapid transit plans in danger of being delayed.

Still, Stephen says, Hamilton is better off with Metrolinx.

"I think it's really positive to be part of Metrolinx, because we can build on the inter-regional connection," Stephen said.

Local light rail advocate Nicholas Kevlahan agrees. "For Hamilton's system to be successful, it has to be integrated into the GTA," he said.

Minister of Consumer Services Sophia Aggelonitis, MPP for Hamilton Mountain, says she'll continue to advocate for light rail in Hamilton.

"There are a lot of people working behind the scenes very, very hard to help Hamilton with rapid transit," she said. "We want to make sure that public transit gets the funding that it requires."

According to Emna Dhahak, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, yesterday's contribution to Waterloo marks "a long-standing government commitment dating back to the 2007 budget."

However, critics say the announcement falls well short of the province's pledge to fund two-thirds of the $800 million project.