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LiUNA leader calls demise of Hamilton’s LRT ‘disturbing’

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

The head of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) says the cancellation of Hamilton’s light-rail transit line (LRT) is “disturbing.”

Joe Mancinelli, LiUNA’s vice-president and regional manager for Central and Eastern Canada, says the pullout was “a pretty traumatic experience” for his organization.

LiUNA Local 837 was a player in projects connected with the LRT, including some 5,000 workers who were expected to participate in the construction of the 14-kilometre line set to run between McMaster University and Eastgate Square.

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“We didn’t have an opportunity to consult,” Mancinelli told Global News.

“Most disturbing is that the province came into the city and just made an announcement that they were cancelling without any real backup, without any consultation.”

In response, the union has undertaken its own study to price out the cost of building an LRT system.

READ MORE: Hamilton Street Railway union boss ‘not surprised’ city’s LRT project was scrapped

“I think that that there’s an opportunity to put this back on track,” Mancinelli said.

“I think the most intelligent thing that we can do as a community is come together and start looking at plan B, plan C, plan D, and present a number of these plans to the provincial government.”

Two of LiUNA’s projects were built on the premise of an LRT in downtown, according to Mancinelli, including a 20-storey student residence on James Street North which was completed last year, and a two-tower development, both 30 storeys, being built at King and Hughson.

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The Hamilton LRT project was once a priority in Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) expected to improve the city’s transportation choices, bring a “smaller carbon footprint to the city,” and link to a network of the province’s transit lines to bring “seamless regionwide services for travellers.”

However, Ontario cancelled the project on Monday, citing a third-party consultant’s report that said overall costs had ballooned to an estimated $5.5 billion — a price that Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the province simply “couldn’t afford.”

Mancinelli says they “not alone” in terms of having a stake in downtown projects counting on an LRT. IN8 Developments announced the purchase and plan to redevelop City Centre Mall in late October.

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

That project — steps from a proposed LRT stop in downtown — is set to knock down the current structure on James Street North between King Street East and York Boulevard and build five residential and commercial towers, to the tune of about $700 million.

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“There are companies that bought the Eaton Centre that want to build on that,” said Mancinelli.

“There’s all sorts of investments, millions and millions that have been made. And all of these investments have been made in Hamilton that were contingent on the LRT coming.”

READ MORE: Developer to build $700M retail, condo space at Hamilton City Centre

Hamilton Chamber of Commerce president Keanin Loomis told Global News that the purpose of the LRT was to bring economic development for an aging downtown core.

Loomis, who remains optimistic about development in the city centre core, says downtown investors will need answers from both the province and city after the demise of the LRT .

“This is about downtown development, and people who have invested in downtown on the promise of this project,” Loomis told Global News.

“They need answers and they need to know that Hamilton is still a place in which to invest.”

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A big question for the community, Loomis goes on to say, is what will be done with the estimated $80 million of property he says the province bought up in downtown, where the LRT was to be built.

“That needs to be a major part of the whole mandate of their task force or whatever going forward. They have to address that because they cannot just become vacant properties with slumlords.”

Loomis believes transforming the King Street corridor with a focus on urban renewal is the best economic development opportunity.

Those sentiments have been echoed by downtown Coun. Jason Farr, who says he’s been busy answering a number of calls from developers who have spent millions.

Those calls, he said, have either expressed disappointment or had questions about the cancelled LRT.

READ MORE: Property acquisitions continue ahead of Hamilton LRT construction

“I’m doing what I can to reach out, hopefully to bring some assurance that this councillor still wants to work very closely with them,” Farr told Global News.

Flamborough-Glanbrook Conservative MPP Donna Skelly says the city now has to turn to what she calls a “phenomenal” opportunity in the form of the province’s original $1-billion commitment to “roll out a state-of-the-art, thorough transit system” that reaches all parts of Hamilton.

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The spending of that money will be monitored through a yet-to-be-named task force, according to Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.

The province says that 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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