Questions raised about actual cost of Hamilton LRT following the release of redacted report

Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath addressed the redacted LRT report in downtown Hamilton on Friday, along with Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann, Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green, and Tim Potocic, owner of Sonic Unyon Records. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Ontario’s NDP leader is calling on the Ford government to get Hamilton’s LRT project back on track after releasing a redacted version of the report used to justify its cancellation.

In December 2019, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney pulled the plug on the project, citing a report that pegged costs at $5.5 billion.

On Friday, the provincial NDP released the redacted version of the Turner and Townsend report, with NDP Leader and Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath saying the numbers in the report don’t accurately reflect Mulroney’s reasons for cancelling the project.

“It is very, very clear that for some reason, the minister of transportation and Mr. Ford were pretty much making stuff up when it comes to the LRT here in our city,” Horwath said during a press conference in downtown Hamilton on Friday morning.

A breakdown of the estimates in the report includes a total estimated capital cost of about $2.3 billion (including estimates for contingency and escalation), a base construction cost of $1.28 billion, and an estimate for “total operations, maintenance, and lifecycle” — indexed to 2027 — set at slightly more than $1.3 billion.

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In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation stood by the $5.5-billion estimate, citing “an independent, expert analysis”.

“We will explore all options to leverage our $1 billion in funding with any potential funding partners, including the federal government, in an effort to get transit built for the people of Hamilton,” wrote Jacob Ginger, communications account coordinator for the Ministry of Transportation.

Asked about the report and the cost of the LRT project during Friday’s news conference, Premier Doug Ford stood by the $5.5-billion estimates.

“We had experts go in there and it is $5.5 billion, unequivocal,” said Ford.

“There’s a billion dollars of operating costs. I’m not prepared to put the burden of the tax onto the back of the taxpayers in Hamilton.”

Ford added that the federal government has yet to commit to helping fund the project, although federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna has expressed openness about financially supporting LRT as a shovel-ready infrastructure project.

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Matthew Green, Hamilton Centre’s NDP MP, was also at the Friday morning news conference with Horwath and said conversations about Hamilton’s LRT have been taking place in Ottawa, both formally and informally.

“For municipalities who are going to try to be competing for federal dollars, I would argue there are very few municipalities across the country who would have a project of this scale and scope and magnitude that are this far along,” said Green.

The province has yet to reveal its decision based on the findings of its transportation task force, which determined that LRT would be the best option for Hamilton. It also cited bus rapid transit as a viable option.

The Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario continue to work on the “technical review” of the task force’s findings.

“Given the current circumstances in Ontario with the COVID-19 pandemic, the timing around further engagement, discussions and decisions on transportation options for the City of Hamilton may be affected,” wrote Ginger.

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