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Is a light rail transit system in Hamilton's future?

Is a light rail transit system in Hamilton's future?

An overwhelming number of Hamiltonians want the city to start constructing a light rail transit system as soon as possible.

By Kevin Werner

Published in the Ancaster News on May 16, 2008.

An overwhelming number of Hamiltonians want the city to start constructing a light rail transit system as soon as possible, despite its multi-million price tag, two public meetings revealed.

Jill Stephen, manager of strategic planning for the city's public works department, acknowledged the majority of the estimated 150 people who attended two recently held public meetings favoured a light rail transit (LRT) system over a bus rapid transit system (BRT).

Ms. Stephen said a report being prepared for councillors next month will indicate the public's preferred choice. But she was reluctant to say if her department will recommend the city move towards a light rail transit system.

"We are still drafting the report," she said. "But it definitely appears to be light rail."

Based on the comment forms from people who attended the meetings at the Sackville Hill Seniors Centre and the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board building, 92 per cent who responded supported rapid transit, and 68 per cent favoured LRT. About seven per cent of the people leaned towards BRT.

As part of its Rapid Transit Feasibility Study, transit officials are proposing to establish two rapid transit routes - an A-line along James and Upper James streets from the Hamilton Airport to the waterfront, and a B-line from University Plaza in Dundas to Eastgate Square.

Ms. Stephen said further research needs to be conducted on a LRT system, most critically on how much it will cost, and the economic development it will create for the city.

Preliminary costs of both systems reveal the LRT system is the most expensive with the capital cost projected at $15 million per km for a one-way street and $25 million per km for two-way streets.

The BRT system's capital cost is set at $6.5 million per km for one-way streets and $9 million for two-way streets.

A significant concern for residents about building a LRT system is to cross the Niagara Escarpment, two 6.5 m diameter tunnels would have to be constructed in the escarpment from St. Joseph's Hospital to Mohawk College. Other obstacles include the electricity for an LRT is limited for the system, and the bridges over James and King streets are too low.

In addition, LRT, which is a street-level rail system, uses overhead electricity for energy. Cities that are using the system include Edmonton, Alberta and San Jose, California.

Ms. Stephen said the plan is to settle on what rapid transit system Hamilton will be adopting and finalize its budget to accommodate Metrolinx's budget by this fall.

"We want to get into the first cut of the Metrolinx budget for 2009," she said.

Metrolinx has control over a $17.5 billion transportation fund to dole out to municipalities who have establish rapid transit projects.

Meanwhile, one of the questions residents raised during the public meetings was the economic development impacts a LRT system will have on the city. Ms. Stephen acknowledge little information is available for Hamilton.

But there is a direct correlation between improve economic development and LRT from Portland, Oregon, which has in place a LRT system.

"Light rail has been a catalyst for the economy and economic revitalization," she said. "There are also examples in other states."

The deadline for further comments that will be included in the report that will be sent to the public works committee next month is May 20.

If interested in sending a comment, the web site is www.hamilton.ca/rapid-transit; email at rapidtransit@hamilton.ca, or phone 905-546-2424, ext.1473.