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Ontario cash helps Hamilton move on transit

$3m in provincial study funding will focus on logistics of James-Upper James corridor

By Dana Brown

(Published in the Hamilton Spectator on April 3, 2009.)

A $3-million infusion of transit cash is a "strong indication" the province understands the needs of Hamilton, says Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

The funds are slated to help the city push forward on two proposed rapid transit lines, one on the King-Main corridor and the other on the James-Upper James corridor.

"We are clearly positioning ourselves to be part of the ... $11.5-billion Move Ontario funding envelope" that still has $2.5-billion in it, Eisenberger said. Hamilton's two projects are estimated to cost $1 billion.

The new $3 million is part of $9 billion in transit funding announced earlier this week by Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The lion's share of the pot, $7.2 billion, went to projects in Toronto, which are closer to starting construction than either of Hamilton's rapid transit lines. Another $1.4 billion was allocated to York Region, north of Toronto.

Bob Nichols, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, said in an e-mail that Hamilton received the money to do work that will help it determine the potential for rapid transit, either light rail - which council favours - or buses. The money will help finalize plans for the corridors, he said.

"Decisions on future transit infrastructure funding will be made through the province's capital planning process and in the context of (the) Metrolinx regional transportation plan," Nichols said.

Eisenberger said the amount of cash the city got is "consistent with the way we've positioned our interests ... fully understanding that projects that are ready to go should go."

To date, Hamilton has focused the bulk of its work on the King-Main line, which is ready to be constructed first.

That proposal is now undergoing an analysis by the regional transportation body Metrolinx, which needs to give the thumbs-up before the line moves ahead.

Jill Stephen, director of strategic and environmental planning with the city, said the new funds will help with background work on the trickier James-Upper James corridor.

That work needs to be done before the project can be evaluated by Metrolinx.

"The escarpment provides a bit of a challenge for getting up and down, and the B-line (King-Main) is relatively flat," she said.

"So we want to make sure that we look at the lines together to see how we can co-ordinate all of the efforts."

Stephen said about $600,000 has been spent for work on the King-Main line.

Nicholas Kevlahan, spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail, a residents' group advocating for light rail transit (LRT), said the cash from the province is a good sign.

"I think the fact that they're giving the city this amount of money when they know the city's pushing for LRT is a positive sign," he said.

City staff are planning to hold public information sessions in June to provide citizens with an update.

The Metrolinx board will make a decision on the city's King-Main line in July.