So called LRT “preparatory construction work” is now underway in Hamilton while there is still considerable political and financial uncertainty about the final cost of the project, where any shortfall in funding might come from, and what happens if Hamilton Council rejects the operation and maintenance agreement for the project, which they have yet to see.. The LRT project has spent another $57 Million since July of 2018 when LRT expenditures to that point had totalled $105 Million. The total spent has risen to $162 Million with an additional $22 Million committed to be spent. In answer to questions from the Bay Observer, a Metrolinx spokesperson noted, “This includes expenditures on the project dating back to 2007, including costs to complete the original environmental assessment in 2011, the environmental assessment update in 2017, preliminary and ongoing engineering design work, tender preparation, staff time and property acquisition. To date, Metrolinx has spent approximately $80M on 60 property acquisitions.” If the Ford government sticks to its hard cap of $1 Billion for LRT there remains only $800 Million to build the system.
The Bay Observer asked what work of an actual construction nature has been undertaken, to which Metrolinx responded: “Preparatory works have continued ahead of major construction beginning. This includes subsurface and geoscience investigations, surveying, environmental works and preparing acquired properties for future demolition. Of significance, early works construction is also now underway at Queenston Traffic Circle to prepare for Hamilton LRT, demonstrating significant progress in the project. Trans Northern Pipelines Inc. (TNPI) is replacing a section of its pipeline crossing the LRT corridor. This construction began in mid-October and is expected to be completed in late December. Early works projects help prepare for major construction by moving necessary utilities ahead of time, and will assist in delivering major construction work on schedule.”
The Bay Observer posed the following question to both Metrolinx and the office of the Minister of Transport:
I wonder if you could assist with a policy question. We have a situation in Hamilton where initially nobody was prepared to bid on Hamilton’s LRT because they didn’t believe it could be built for the hard cap of $1 Billion that the government has offered. The project is now being re-tendered but to date we have no idea what the bids will be but there is a general consensus that the price will be way over $1 Billion. Hamilton Council have repeatedly declared that they will not contribute anything to capital costs of LRT.
Nonetheless Metrolinx has spent $184 Million on a project that is surrounded by uncertainty. They have no tenders, no idea where funding shortfalls will be made up, and there still is an opportunity for Hamilton Council to reject the deal altogether when the operating and maintenance agreement is presented to them.
My questions then:
• Is there some kind of understanding that the province has lifted the cap on $1 Billion?
• Is Metrolinx construction activity regularly monitored by the Ministry/
• How from a public policy standpoint is this kind of speculative spending justified?
Ignoring the policy question, Metrolinx would only say that relocating utilities and property acquisition are normal parts of the preconstruction process. As of press time the Minister of Transport had not been able to provide a response.