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Council Needs to Stay the Course

Posted June 18, 2014

The same Liberal Party that first proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines in Hamilton in 2007 and campaigned last month on a promise to provide 100 percent capital funding for Hamilton's Rapid Ready LRT plan has just won a majority government in the Ontario Legislature. Now it's time for the Province to keep its promise to Hamilton.

We have never been closer to achieving our plan to build LRT along the east-west B-Line corridor between McMaster University and Eastgate Square.

What City Council needs to do is stay the course it has been on through a long series of votes dating back to 2008. That course began with the formation of the Rapid Transit Office and the launch of a feasibility study that compared LRT and bus rapid transit (BRT) and concluded that LRT is more expensive but delivers a much bigger overall benefit.

Council needs to stand behind the Rapid Ready LRT Plan, which is the culmination of several years' worth of study, analysis and design work, and communicate its support for LRT clearly and unambiguously. Council approved the plan last year and submitted it to the Province.

We have completed the feasibility studies, the economic studies, the class environmental assessment, the 30 percent engineering and detailed design work and the secondary land use planning to ensure that developers are able to invest in new projects around the line. The project has been reviewed by Metrolinx and studied independently by the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics and other planners.

Hamilton is in the Metrolinx list of priority projects and we have done our homework. We are ready for approval. We are ready to make this project a reality.

This is absolutely no time to waver or give Queen's Park any excuse to claim we are not serious about LRT or do not know what we prefer.

Mayor Undermining LRT

Unfortunately, we have in Bob Bratina a mayor who has spent his term confusing and undermining the case for LRT with a relentless stream of misleading and bogus claims. His antics continued last week with a fresh serving of malarkey:

In the past, Bratina has advocated for building ridership using bus rapid transit before building an LRT line, but has been in favour of all-day GO train service. He said Thursday there are still too many questions around LRT, such as "where we would park the trains" and "the infrastructure underneath the street, which could add tens of hundreds of millions of dollars on our tax burden."

Where will we park the trains? Staff already recommended a location at an existing city-owned transit maintenance building on Wentworth Street North, but Council deferred making a decision on it. This is hardly a deal-breaker, but Bratina makes it sound like we can't possibly decide to go ahead with LRT until we can determine whether it's possible to find somewhere to store the vehicles.

What about the road infrastructure? As part of the Rapid Ready planning, city staff carefully estimated which part of the infrastructure beneath the streets would be charged as direct capital costs to the province and which infrastructure Hamilton would need to pay for. Essentially, any infrastructure that would need in any case to be replaced soon would be paid by Hamilton, and the rest would be paid by the province.

This is a matter for negotiation, but we know how it worked in Toronto, where the Province fully funded and is in the process of building the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line. Bratina is trying to count the necessary infrastructure upgrades we would have to complete regardless as part of the cost of LRT.

The Time is Now

If we refuse LRT now, we are walking away on $800 million in direct provincial investment in our economic sustainability, an investment that is proven to deliver a huge overall return on investment in greater economic activity, new transit-oriented development, greater mobility and improved quality of life.

If Bratina is truly worried about our tax burden, he should consider what the loss of new tax revenue will mean for a Hamilton that turns down this opportunity.

Not only that, but the cities we are competing with for residents and investments - places like Mississauga, Brampton and Kitchener-Waterloo - will be increasing their attractiveness with LRT investments of their own. Refusing LRT will be a double-whammy for Hamilton, which will compete even more poorly with its regional peers.

The mayor is only one vote on Council, and in any case he has already announced that he will not run for re-election. He must not be allowed to hijack Council's will or misrepresent its decisions to the Province.

If ever there was a time for our Councillors to remember the evidence presented before them, trust their own legacy of support, uphold the courage of their convictions and reiterate their commitment to LRT, that time is now.

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