Watchers of the Hamilton LRT debate were left scratching their heads when two seemingly contradictory messages emerged from Queen’s Park about LRT for Hamilton.

On Monday Spectator reporter Andrew Dreschel quoted Metrolinx VP Leslie Woo as saying that a community’s willingness to shoulder some of the cost of transit projects would be a factor in deciding which projects receive funding.

But then on Wednesday, writing for YourHBiz, former Fred Eisenberger political aide Greg Crone quoted Transportation Minister Glen Murray as saying a community’s willingness to co-pay for transit would not be of as much importance as would be the economic spinoffs that would accrue to a community.

Later Murray clarified his position saying that he meant to say that Hamilton might not have to raise special taxes to pay its share of LRT, but might find the funding in increased taxes resulting from development along the LRT .route.

Last weekend Metrolinx staged a stakeholder meeting to get input into how to fund the Big Move — Metrolinx’s $50 Billion transit vision for the GTAH. They heard proposals ranging from tolls, to increasing the sales tax and a number of measures in between like parking and gas tax surcharges.

The mixed messages came after Hamilton Council endorsed a HSR report Rapid Ready that recommended significant improvements to Hamilton’s conventional transit system as a means of increasing ridership to levels that would justify LRT. Council added the caveat that they still expected Metrolinx to pay the full capital cost of LRT, even though Murray’s predecessor in Transportation, Bob Chiarelli, warned as recently as last fall that a Hamilton contribution would be required.

As Minister of Research and Innovation, Glen Murray has championed Hamilton’s urban potential. He told the Economic Summit in 2010 that Hamilton stands to become a magnet for small and medium enterprises because of its liveability.

Fred Eisenberger, an LRT supporter, followed Murray into heading up the Canadian Urban Institute in 2010. A CUI study on the economic potential of the LRT was cited in the HSR report recently presented to council.

It forecast about $50 Million in economic development along the route of the proposed B Line over the next 15 years. This would be roughly equal to the increased annual operating cost of the LRT.

The CUI study at $170,000 was one of several consultant reports promoting LRT that totalled $1.9 Million in fees. With city staff costs included at total of $9 Million has been spent thus far studying LRT for Hamilton.

As to whether or not Hamilton will be expected to fund part of LRT, the picture should become clearer in June when Metrolinx finally unveils its funding plans for the Big Move — or maybe not. The opposition parties may decide that they cannot keep the current government alive much longer and maintain their credibility as alternatives.

What do you think?

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