Hamilton mayor ‘worried’ about LRT as transportation minister makes major announcement

Artist rendering of Hamilton's LRT project.
Artist rendering of Hamilton's LRT project. City of Hamilton

Hamilton’s mayor says he’s “worried” about what will come out of an announcement from the province’s Ministry of Transportation on Monday.

Fred Eisenberger says he’s “shocked” after Global News told him about a last-minute presser set for Monday afternoon with provincial transportation minister Caroline Mulroney making a major announcement.

There’s no official word on what Mulroney will be presenting, however, Eisenberger says he would not be surprised if it’s about the cost of the city’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) project.

READ MORE: Mayor Eisenberger touts mandate to build Hamilton LRT in inaugural address

“I can tell you that a couple of months ago, I met with the minister and they expressed some concerns about some estimates that they had done,” Eisenberger told Global News.

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“I’m just shocked. I’m stunned. I just can’t believe that. First of all, they’re holding a press conference without letting us know about it.”

He’s worried the province will either announce the LRT project is dead or that the cost of the project will run billions of dollars more than what’s been designated and the province won’t cover those extra costs.

“I’ve always been worried about the future of this project. I think I’ve said all along that this is going to be a roller coaster, ” Eisenberger said.

The mayor says if city taxpayers are left to cover those higher costs the project will essentially die on the table.

“This actually completely messes up the RFP (request for proposal) process,” said Eisenberger. “I can only imagine that they’re going to put their pens down. We’re never going to know what the actual numbers are going to be. And, you know, understandable that numbers would have escalated, but not to the degree that they’re claiming.”

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READ MORE: Property acquisitions continue ahead of Hamilton LRT construction

In early December, the city’s project director, Kris Jacobson, revealed the LRT was on course with Metrolinx, saying it had bought two-thirds of the 90 full properties needed to build the 14-kilometre line from Eastgate Square to McMaster University, along the King-Main corridor.

Three consortiums that have been chosen to bid for construction of the Hamilton LRT are putting the finishing touches on their proposals.

It’s expected the contract will be awarded next fall, after which the successful bidder will need about six months for design work prior to beginning construction. Work on the line was expected to start in 2021.

READ MORE: Conservative MPP Donna Skelly draws line in the road on LRT commitment

A report, presented by Jacobson on Dec. 4, also showed that Metrolinx has spent $162 million on the project to date. Much of that related to the purchase of properties.

The current provincial government has said it will not pay more than the original $1 billion promised in 2015, but there’s optimism that the federal government would come to the table in the event of cost overruns.

Liberal MP and cabinet minister Catherine McKenna has indicated that her government would consider such a request, following past meetings with mayor Eisenberger.

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Eisenberger says he’s hoping to meet with Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney before the afternoon announcement to get more clarity on the potential issues.

“I hate to speculate, but you know, I worry and I think it’s whatever happens, it’s not a good news story for the city of Hamilton.”