The task force charged with exploring uses for the $1 Billion that had been earmarked for Hamilton LRT has done its work. It has essentially made three recommendations– find the extra $2 Billion needed to build LRT, implement Bus Rapid Transit along with a roll out of the BLAST network, or use the money to ramp up 15 Minute all day GO service. Contrary to a news release issued by Mayor Eisenberger, the task force assigned equal value to each of the three recommendations—it did not favour LRT over the other recommendations. In fact, twice in the report the task force recommended “that the Province and Metrolinx consider both of these projects (LRT, BRT) equally and undertake further analysis concurrently to determine which project is the best fit for Hamilton’s transportation needs.” The Bay Observer confirmed this interpretation with Task Force chair Tony Valeri, who noted that the task force actually recommended that the province undertake studies that would provide an edge-to-edge comparison of the benefits of not only LRT vs BRT but also to compare those against the benefits of 15-minute all-day GO service from downtown Hamilton. Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney promptly issued a news release saying she has told Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario to get working on those technical studies. As a sub-set of its LRT recommendation, the task force explored the option of building a shorter LRT spending up to the $1 Billion limit, should other funding not be available. But the report made it clear that the truncated LRT would have to be evaluated on its own merits against the full BRT and GO options.
There is no question that senior governments will want to invest in infrastructure projects once the COVID crisis has passed, but it is still hard to see how the federal government could, as some seem to think, pay it’s one third share of an LRT for Hamilton, following the current legislation, and then somehow cover off Hamilton’s share. What is more likely is that Hamilton would have to come up with $700 to $900 million in debt, and while it might be available at a rock-bottom interest rate; would still displace other borrowing options for the almost endless list of infrastructure needs in Hamilton that have been deferred time and again. So far Hamilton City Council, and the rest of the community have been spectators to this debate. Now there is no reason for either council or engaged citizens to sit by. The report should be studied carefully. It is not a long read. Then everyone with an informed opinion should weigh in with their councilor, their MPP and their MP to help shape the critical decision about what is the best transit path forward for Hamilton. As we have said here repeatedly we don’t think it is LRT, but we trust the judgement of an engaged citizenry in possession of all of the facts. The full task force report is here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/hamilton-transportation-task-force-report?_ga=2.137965680.1177101685.1586466341-93210217.1576445330