Hamilton’s light rail transit project is moving forward.
City council has voted to file an updated environmental assessment with the province, after approving the design plan in a 10-5 vote.
Metrolinx and the city can now move forward on the $1-billion project’s next phases, including negotiations around the purchase of all or part of more than 200 properties, as well as with hiring someone to design, build and maintain the LRT line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.
The project’s timelines call for construction to start in 2019.
Several Hamilton politicians, who had been undecided, voted in support of the project on Wednesday evening after Ontario’s transportation minister wrote a letter to Mayor Fred Eisenberger saying the province would work with the city to extend the LRT line by three kilometres to Eastgate Square, rather than ending the line at the Queenston Traffic Circle.
The letter from Steven Del Duca also indicated the province will work with the city to explore ways to reduce costs to accommodate the extension within the project’s original $1-billion allocation.
Del Duca’s announcement won the support of Ward 8 Coun. Terry Whitehead, who says extending the 14-kilometre line to Eastgate sends “a very powerful message, and that is that this transit system that we are building is for everybody, and everybody will have the benefit.” Whitehead adds that his goal was to “leverage as much as I could out of this current process,” something he believes has now been accomplished.
The transportation minister released another statement following council’s decision, saying, “We are pleased to see members of council taking another important step forward on this historic project.”
Dundas Coun. Arlene Vanderbeek also supported the project’s environmental assessment after previously being undecided.
“I have become convinced that this is not the terrible risk we thought it might be, but an opportunity not to be wasted,” she said.
Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins stressed that he remains convinced most people in every ward are opposed to LRT, but he added that he’s willing to try to make it work.
“The only way that this project moves forward without being a gong show, and without affecting every other major issue we’re going to deal with, is if people are trying to find ways and means of which to resolve problems associated with it,” Collins said.
Stoney Creek Coun. Doug Conley, who voted against the environmental assessment, predicts those problems will include “massive disruption to King Street and throughout the downtown” that will discourage people from coming to the city core.
Ward 7’s Donna Skelly, another outspoken opponent, said she believes council is making “a big, permanent and costly mistake.”