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Local rapid transit not on track till at least 2012

Hamilton rapid transit will likely appear in Year 4 or 5 of the Metrolinx 2009-2013 budget.

By Rob Faulkner

Published in the Hamilton Spectator on October 15, 2008.

Regional transportation agency Metrolinx gave Hamilton a reality check yesterday, suggesting planning won't even begin for local rapid transit until 2012 or 2013.

Hamilton city staff - confident that the city has a good case for light rapid transit - had hoped for shovels in the ground by 2011.

Metrolinx chair Rob MacIsaac said Hamilton rapid transit will likely appear in Year 4 or 5 of the agency's 2009-2013 budget. Due next month, the budget will outline timing, but not whether Hamilton is to get rail or bus rapid transit. That needs more study.

The budget, and related final regional transportation plan, are being closely watched by city staff, who have said they are "ready to go" on a new light rail system.

MacIsaac, at a Spectator editorial board meeting yesterday, said Hamilton made a good pitch for LRT, but lags behind other cities.

"City of Hamilton staff have done an outstanding job of making the case, but I think that's different than being ready to go. There is a huge inertia to getting one of these things off the ground," he said.

York Region, for example, has a construction consortium ready and environmental assessments done.

"There is no doubt that Toronto, the TTC, York Region are in a league of their own" when it comes to being ready to build rapid transit, said John Howe, Metrolinx manager of investments and projects.

Metrolinx is a provincial Crown agency charged with planning and implementing a regional transportation plan. Its draft plan shortlisted rapid transit from Centennial Parkway to McMaster University in the first 15 years of its strategy.

To start, Metrolinx has $11.5 billion in provincial cash, enough to fund seven years of a $50-billion, 25-year plan revealed this fall.

"I don't see Hamilton competing with others, I see a secure place for Hamilton," said MacIsaac, noting that the first projects to be funded in the Metrolinx budget are likely to be those being studied now: mostly Toronto projects and the electrification of GO Transit's Lakeshore line, which serves Hamilton.

MacIsaac also said that if he were a city manager, he would put money aside in the municipal budget to help fund projects. Metrolinx will only fund a "bare bones" version of rapid transit lines, he added.

City staff studying the issue say two LRT lines in Hamilton -- one east-west, and one north-south -- could cost $1.1 billion. City councillors want Ontario to pay capital costs, and worry about the cost of operating any new system.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who is on the Metrolinx board, was unavailable for an interview yesterday.

Eisenberger is one of the 11 Metrolinx board members, mostly a collection of Toronto-area politicians and transit system chairs.