The City's LRT plan has $1 billion in provincial funding. Tell Council to take YES for an answer.

Spectator Editorial: Let's get going on LRT system

Spectator Editorial: Let's get going on LRT system

Some costs should not scare council, or the public, away from this huge economic opportunity for Hamilton. If other cities' experience is any indicator, strategic investment in LRT will pay for itself many times over.

By Robert Howard

Published in the Hamilton Spectator on October 22, 2008.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, councillors and city staff have done an excellent job so far in bringing the city's pitch for a light rail transit system as far as they have.

Now it's up to council to worry less about about ancillary financing details and strongly endorse this week's committee recommendation to go after an LRT line - and give staff the go-ahead and resources to shift into high gear.

The city has made a strong case for LRT to Metrolinx, the provincial body in charge of implementing the government's visionary long-term transit plan. The next big step is to show we're ready to move as soon as they are.

Hamilton is still behind, for example, York Region. Metrolinx chair Rob MacIsaac has pointedly noted that making a case is not the same as being ready to go. When Metrolinx makes its decision, it (and its masters and cheque-signers at Queen's Park) will want to see a fast bang for the buck - visible, shovels-in-the-ground evidence of the province's vision and, yes, "largesse."

If it looks as if the cheque from Queen's Park is going to sit in the bank while Hamilton finalizes routing, design, property acquisitions (if needed) and possible environmental assessments, we will end up at the back of the line, waiting for the second (or even later) round of funding.

That's not what Hamilton should be aiming for. The next stages of advance work not only have to begin now but must be a top city hall priority. Every year of delay in getting LRT on track (pun not intended) is another year in which the project can be lost - and another year without the badly needed economic stimulus LRT will undoubtedly bring to this city. LRT in Hamilton is as much about its proven economic benefits as it is about moving people.

There's a lot of councillor hand-wringing about financing details. It's important that this opportunity for Hamilton doesn't get hung up on that now. It's clear that the province, through Metrolinx, is putting the lion's share of funding for the project on the table.

There will be incidental costs. If you win a million-dollar lottery, you still have to pay your own bus (or limo) fare into Toronto to pick up the cheque. Council needs to think now about putting some money aside, and about public-private partnerships as a revenue source. But it is not, at present, a make-or-break consideration.

Some costs should not scare council, or the public, away from this huge economic opportunity for Hamilton. If other cities' experience is any indicator, strategic investment in LRT will pay for itself many times over.

Whether Hamilton gets LRT is, in the end, up to Metrolinx. But Hamilton has missed the brass ring - or let go of it - too many times in the past. Hamilton council needs to stiffen its spine and resolve that this opportunity won't be lost for want of trying.