Hamilton City Council is perhaps for the first time taking a critical look at the whole LRT question. Since the Provincial election kicked off both Premier Wynne, in a Burlington photo-op and Glen Murray, in a tweet have suddenly made clear what they have had so much trouble articulating in the past—namely that Hamilton WILL get 100% funding for LRT. Or, wait a minute—actually the premier said “Rapid Transit”. But if you look at the recent provincial budget, there is less clarity on the Big Move Funding formula than ever. Recall that we started out last year with Metrolinx’s proposal, which involved a gas tax surcharge, an increase in the HST and HOV lane fees. That was deemed unpalatable to voters so the province brought in Ann Golden to come up with a new formula. The Golden solution left scrapped the HST increase and instead recommended a combination of gas tax, corporate tax increases and land-value capture to fund the plan. Then just before the election was called Premier Wynne watered the proposal down further by saying the money would come by “redirecting” existing gas tax and the HST paid on gas, as well as an unspecified amount of borrowing. She didn’t indicate what would replace these “redirected” taxes.
Former Hamilton Transit Boss Ted Gill reopened the debate in a presentation to Hamilton City Council May 7th by suggesting the much cheaper Bus Rapid Transit could have the same benefits in terms of city-building that LRT would provide and that with BRT it might be possible to simultaneously implement both the A and B lines. Councillor Terry Whitehead said he thinks we need to re-think the B line (Eastgate Square to McMaster) vs A Line (Harbour to Airport) altogether. He told CHML’s Scott Thompson that the A line should get a second look, because Unlike the B line, it ties directly into the GO system and would connect the lower city to the airport and the employment lands that exist on the South Mountain. To his credit, Whitehead also rejected the widespread notion that Hamilton should take the Billion dollars that the LRT would cost, because it is “free” money from another level of government; pointing out that a bad spending decision is still a bad decision no matter who is paying. Wisely, council has decided to not pay too much attention to tweets and announcements from provincial politicians until after the election, when we will find out who is in charge; and in the case of the Liberals should they form a government, how they really intend to pay for the Big Move.