Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday April 28, 2017
LRT to Eastgate Square reborn after council nod
Hamilton’s contentious $1-billion LRT project has survived a high-stakes council vote to push ahead after last-minute provincial agreement to extend the light rail line to Eastgate Square.
Wednesday night’s 10-5 vote means provincial transit agency Metrolinx should be able to seek private sector bids to design, build and operate the project — now a 14-kilometre LRT line — as early as this summer.
It also appeared to convince at least some council opponents to pledge reluctant support to the project going forward, despite one last voting opportunity next year to derail LRT when council is asked to sign a final operating agreement.
“I hope that after today we come together as a council and say, we’re moving forward,” said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who acknowledged “frustration” among LRT supporters at apparent efforts to kill the project. “This has not been a short journey.”
Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins, a vehement LRT critic, shocked observers by voting to submit the project study for provincial approval.
He made clear his preference would be to hold a referendum on LRT, but added by next year Metrolinx would have spent $80 million-plus on planning and property purchases. “There’s no turning back at that point,” he said.
Collins said he would continue to criticize the project as required, but also urged councillors to “make the best of a bad situation” and work together to ease challenges for affected residents. He warned the project will be a “gong show” if council and the community remain bitterly divided over LRT.
Ward 9 Coun. Doug Conley voted against submitting the study, but also served notice he would support council’s majority decision thereafter. “I really, really hope that it works out great … I have my doubts,” he said.
A late letter from Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca promising a three-kilometre line extension — but no new money — appeared to tip the scales for councillors like vocal LRT critic Terry Whitehead.
Whitehead was criticized by project fans for urging a vote delay earlier this month to investigate the feasibility of an Eastgate extension. He called inclusion of the commercial and transit “destination location” a critical way to strengthen the project for the whole city.
Del Duca said the province will “work with the city to explore ways to reduce costs to accommodate the extension” to Eastgate Square — the city’s original requested eastern end point — rather than stopping at the Queenston traffic circle.
He said project planners expect to reallocate savings from a recent decision to axe a spur line to the James Street North GO station, estimated at between $100 million and $125 million.
But Metrolinx has warned an Eastgate extension could cost anywhere from $150 million to $225 million. Del Duca’s letter doesn’t clearly spell out what would happen if the extension put the project over its $1-billion budget, but notes the change is contingent on “consideration of available funding to address any additional cost requirements, if necessary.” (Source: Hamilton Spectator)