Stakeholders weigh in on province’s $1B funding promise after cancelling Hamilton’s LRT

Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath at the downtown Sheraton after the province told them Hamilton's LRT project was cancelled.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath at the downtown Sheraton after the province told them Hamilton's LRT project was cancelled. Don Mitchell / Global News

With Hamilton’s light-rail transit line (LRT) now officially cancelled by Queens Park, the focus for many stakeholders on Tuesday turned to the $1 billion funding promise for transportation and transit infrastructure made by the Doug Ford government on Monday.

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney committed to the financial aid through the same statement which put the kibosh on Hamilton’s long-awaited LRT after a third party study said costs ballooned to $5.5 billion — a number Mulroney said the province couldn’t afford.

I understand that there is frustration around the numbers. I feel that frustration and share that anger as well,” Mulroney told Global News.

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“But it’s important that the people of Hamilton know that we are standing by our commitment to provide a billion dollars worth of investment for transportation and transit infrastructure.”

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Hamilton’s 17-stop LRT was set to run for 14 kilometres east and west along Main Street, King Street and Queenston Road connecting McMaster University to Eastgate Square.

The project was to be fully funded by the province at a cost of $1 billion and expected to have opened in 2024.

Click to play video 'Caroline Mulroney speaks about Hamilton LRT cancellation' Caroline Mulroney speaks about Hamilton LRT cancellation
Caroline Mulroney speaks about Hamilton LRT cancellation – Dec 16, 2019

The province says now that it’s moving on from fully funding an LRT project, a task force will be appointed by Queen’s Park to work with Hamilton to determine local transit priorities. Mulroney said membership of the committee itself will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

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Mayor Fred Eisenberger, still disappointed with the demise of the LRT project, told Global News that the city will now have to “make honey out of this vinegar”, referring to the billion headed Hamilton’s way.

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If this promise is to be believed, that they’re going to leave a billion dollars for investment in the city of Hamilton, that is something that we’re going to have to have a very strong and forceful conversation with them on,” said Eisenberger.

“I anticipate that their task force should be structured so that Hamilton leadership has, you know, very strong influence on whatever they’re going to try and pull together.”

On Monday the Mayor said he sees Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a “clear” use for some of the $1B, which would be similar to the express bus service already on the B-line today

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When asked what leaders would have the power to spend the money, the transportation minister would only say that the money will be spent on “priorities that are identified by people in the city of Hamilton.”

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Coun. for West/Central Mountain John-Paul Danko told Global News he gets the feeling the task force will pass off programs the province would normally fund for any municipality as part of the promised investment.

“The best guess is they’ll simply announce provincial projects that they will be on the hook for funding anyway and call it their contribution to the city and Hamilton Transit,” said Danko.

Hamilton Chamber of Commerce president Keanin Loomis believes the downtown core should be the focus of the transit and infrastructure funding coming the city’s way.

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Loomis says the city needs to remember that the purpose of the LRT was to bring economic development for an aging downtown core.

“This was about transforming the King Street corridor. Well, let’s continue with that,” Loomis said. “In fact, now we can actually address the Main Street court corridor at the same time as we should be doing. It should be a holistic transformation of the downtown.”

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Loomis suggests a project like replacing the Longwood Bridge would be a good investment for the money as the Chamber recognizes the investment in McMaster Innovation Park as a future zone for economic growth and jobs.

However, Loomis says he shares concern with Coun. Danko believing that it is possible the province might spend the money on projects they would’ve been doing anyway.

“The people who have invested in downtown on the promise of this (LRT) project, they need answers and they need to know that Hamilton is still a place in which to invest.”

Click to play video 'Hamilton LRT project derailed as province claws back funding' Hamilton LRT project derailed as province claws back funding
Hamilton LRT project derailed as province claws back funding – Dec 17, 2019