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City moves to secure light rail land

The city public works committee approved staff to $500,000 to secure first right of refusal on land for a light rail maintenance facility.

By Nicole MacIntyre

(Published in the Hamilton Spectator on April 7, 2009.)

The city is looking to spend $500,000 to get first dibs on land to support its proposed light rail transit system.

The public works committee voted yesterday to allow staff to start negotiations for land for a maintenance facility.

The $500,000 cost will only give the city first right of refusal on the undisclosed property. More money would be needed for the purchase if the rail plan moves ahead.

"It just secures the property," said Jill Stephen, director of strategic and environmental planning. "It's just one more step in the process."

The city won't find out until the summer if its $1-billion proposal for light rail transit is approved by Metrolinx. Council has selected rail as its top pick, ahead of rapid buses.

Stephen said the board of Metrolinx, the regional transit authority, will make decisions on timing and funding in July.

Staff plan to report back to council in the fall. Only then would any land purchases proceed.

The location is confidential.

Councillors Lloyd Ferguson and David Mitchell voted against locking up the land.

The purchase will only be necessary if Hamilton is approved for light rail, said Ferguson, noting the facility isn't needed if the city opts for rapid buses.

Plus, he added, the city might have to change the light rail route if Hamilton is part of a winning Pan Am Games bid.

"I think it's premature at this point until some other decisions get made," Mitchell agreed. "Spending money before you really know is my main concern."

The proposal goes to council for final approval next week.