Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has released a report that says the former Wynne government knew all along that Hamilton’s proposed LRT project would cost much more than the billion-dollar original cost estimate. Instead of sharing the information with the public, the government had the Treasury Board allocate extra money toward the project. The AG report reads, “The Ministry of Transportation was aware as early as 2016 that the total cost estimate for the Hamilton LRT would be higher than the $1 billion in capital costs that the province had publicly committed to funding in 2015, but it did not make this fact public. The $1 billion was sufficient to cover only the project’s initially estimated construction cost. Subsequently, in December 2016, Treasury Board approved a budget of $2.981 billion for the project, based on estimated costs that included $823 million in construction costs.
In March 2018, Treasury Board approved a revised cost estimate of $3.659 billion, including construction costs of $1.083 billion, because the LRT’s estimated length had increased. We found that the 2016 and 2018 estimates did not represent the full cost of the LRT and were significantly understated. These estimates were not made public at those times.
Based on a detailed review, we found that the $5.5-billion cost estimate reported by the Minister of Transportation in December 2019, when the project was cancelled, was reasonable.” Former Hamilton mayoralty candidate Vito Sgro was a member of Infrastructure Ontario’s Board of Directors at the time when that body was issuing Requests for Proposals for the Hamilton LRT project. He told the Bay Observer in a statement, “Having been a Director on the Board of Infrastructure Ontario at the time in question, I am not at liberty to discuss any confidential information that arose on this topic or any other topic at IO, but having read the Auditor General report in regards to Hamilton LRT, I find her conclusions to be completely reasonable.”
The same Auditor General issued a report in 2018 that found Metrolinx had failed to properly evaluate the merits of Bus Rapid Transit versus LRT in the case of Hamilton and three other projects in Ontario.
Today’s AG report is the “value for money” report that Premier Doug Ford referred to when he blasted Lysyk for what he termed offering medical advice in her special report on the government’s handling of the COVID crisis. Today he was much happier with her report.
While Ford has repeatedly expressed willingness to support LRT in Hamilton if council so wishes, he has also made it clear that the provincial contribution will not exceed the $1 Billion already pledged; and at a news conference in Hamilton last month, for the first time he stated that the city will have to come up with a share of the capital costs. That would bring Hamilton into line with Kitchener and Ottawa who paid roughly 27 percent of the costs of their LRT systems, which in Hamilton’s case would work out to between $800 Million and $1 Billion, depending on the final cost.