The majority on Hamilton City Council who were never onside with LRT but sat by and let the project spiral out of control can breathe a sigh of relief now that the province has bailed them out by cancelling it… but not for long. Will they also stand by and let the province dictate how the Billion dollars should be spent? Let’s hope not. Their first order of business in the new year should be to send a strong signal to Queen’s Park that Hamilton Council wants a say on how those scarce infrastructure dollars are to be spent. Clearly the lion’s share of the funds need to go to some form of cutting-edge green advanced transit. The city is already road-testing electric buses, and some cities in North America are doing likewise with hydrogen powered buses. But even a natural gas powered bus is much cleaner than the 30 to 40 cars it would replace.
Whatever vehicle mode is chosen, job one should be to ensure that Hamilton transit is fully integrated with GO transit– as was the first priority of Metrolinx’s Big Move—but somehow got sidetracked in the case of Hamilton. There was no connection to the West Harbour station which is destined to be Hamilton’s busiest GO station, and the nearest LRT stop to the Hunter Street GO station required a walk of almost half a kilometer from the westbound James Street LRT stop.
Replacing LRT, where the majority of funding is needed to create the tramway and overhead electrical, will free up funding to fast track a bus-based BLAST network that will serve every part of Hamilton, in particular the “A” line along James which was intended to be the North-South spine of the system. Regardless of transit mode, to get people out of their cars requires a transit system that offers frequency, reliability and most important–goes where people want to go. A significant investment will be needed in the area of public education and promotion to make sure all this infrastructure is being utilized. We need to create a transit culture across the city, not just along the Main-King corridor.
In past statements the Ford Government has suggested some of the Billion dollars could be used for “transportation” infrastructure which could include improving road access to our growing industrial parks near the airport. In Ancaster and on the south mountain. This needs to be explored. If one visits the City of Hamilton LRT Page, the Metrolinx announcement of the cancelled LRT contains the following sentence: Over the coming weeks, the Province will work with the City of Hamilton to determine alternative opportunities to deliver on its $1 billion funding commitment. The invitation is there. Now it is up to council to take up the challenge.