Hamilton city council will ask representatives from the Ministry of Transport and possibly Metrolinx to come before council to provide clarification on the status of the Hamilton LRT, in light of published reports about negotiations between LIUNA and the two senior governments being “80 percent there” on a funding deal that would allow the project to go forward.
The motion by Clr. Chad Collins and seconded by Clr. Ferguson—both of whom had supported LRT the last time it was in front of council in 2017 was supported unanimously.
Mayor unaware of status of talks
Even Mayor Fred Eisenberger professed himself to be as much in the dark as everyone else about the status of negotiations between the province and the federal government as he voted in favour of the motion.
Councillors express concerns
Flamborough Councillor Judy Partridge said it was “embarrassing” to have talks taking place with LIUNA as the lead without council approval or participation. Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, in seconding the motion, said his previous support for LRT was based on the long-promised assumption that Hamilton would not be expected to contribute to the capital cost of LRT. Ferguson said the involvement of the federal government concerned him because the only federally-supported transit plan he was aware of would involve all three levels of government and would mean that Hamilton would have to make a contribution. His support also came in 2017 when the proposition was LRT– or walk away from the $1Billion being offered by the Wynne Government. Even before Doug Ford became Premier and several times afterwards, he pledged to allow Hamilton to decide how to spend the transit money. Councillor Brad Clark also expressed “frustration” that talks had extended to the federal government without council input or direction.
Mayor Eisenberger said he has repeatedly told senior governments that Hamilton is not prepared to pay for construction of the LRT. He suggested the only thing that council had agreed to was to pay the operating and maintenance costs of LRT, a figure he pegged at $5 Million annually. However, figures released by the province in December 2019 when the project was cancelled, estimate the O&M cost at close to $30 Million per year.
Collins said council has not had an opportunity to weigh in on whether it is in favour of the shortened LRT line that is being discussed, and suggested they will still want to explore “city Wide” use of the transit funding, meaning possible BRT and BLAST options.
Final decision will be with Premier
Depending on who actually shows up from the province, Council’s request for clarity may go unanswered. In past when Metrolinx officials appeared before council, they were very guarded in making any comments that might veer into the political realm. The kinds of answers council is seeking are political, not technical. When Metrolinx sensed a political shift away from LRT, they produced reports that took a much more balanced view of the relative merits of LRT and BRT. Their last technical report, which, ironically come out the same day as the Province agreed to ask Ottawa for money, painted a detailed BRT scenario as a possibility for Hamilton that would extend service above and below the mountain. The final decision on Hamilton’s transit future lies with the Premier–not Metrolinx or Transport. Up until today Ford has had no input directly from council.