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LiUNA pitches public and private plan to revive cancelled Hamilton LRT

Artist rendering of proposed Hamilton LRT trains running along King Street West.
Artist rendering of proposed Hamilton LRT trains running along King Street West. City of Hamilton

The head of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) believes a Hamilton LRT project is “far from being dead” despite its cancellation by the Province of Ontario in 2019.

Joe Mancinelli, LiUNA’s vice-president and regional manager for Central and Eastern Canada, says the union has pitched a $3.4-million LRT construction plan that would combine private money with potential contributions from the provincial and federal governments.

Read more: Ontario government cancels Hamilton LRT project, mayor calls announcement a ‘betrayal’

“If we have both levels of government showing interest, I can’t for the life of me, see why we can’t get this done,” said Mancinelli. “Why not go to the private sector and do a P3 (public-private partnership) on this project where the two levels of government and the private sector can invest in this project and get it done, once and for all.”

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The proposal draws resources from the infrastructure arm of Fengate, which manages the union’s pension plan at an estimated net worth of $9 billion.

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

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

Days after the province’s mothballing of the LRT, LiUNA directed Fengate to undertake a study to price out the cost of building a transit system.

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

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Mancinelli says the research came up with a total cost of $3.4 billion which he says is a conservative estimate and on par with previous numbers released by the Wynne Liberal government in 2017.

Those numbers contradict the province’s third-party analysis from Turner and Townsend in late 2019 which pegged the project at an estimated cost of $5.5 billion — a price that Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the province simply “couldn’t afford.”

The provincial NDP disputed those findings earlier this month releasing a redacted version of the same report suggesting that capital costs were actually around $2.3 billion with a base construction cost of $1.28 billion.

Read more: Province reveals task force recommendations for Hamilton’s $1B transportation handout

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Mancinelli says the Fengate report was in the hands of the province’s transit task force when they recommended alternate uses for $1 billion of provincial money.

In April, the task force suggested an “intra-city higher-order transit project” for Hamilton which would either encompass a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system running east and west or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that would run east and west in addition to routes north and south through the city.

He also says a copy of the Fengate study was sent to federal infrastructure minister Catherine McKenna for review.

The minister could not confirm receipt of the report but did tell Global News that she recognizes the LRT project is “shovel ready” and has local support from different groups in Hamilton.

“We are committed to funding good public transit projects,” said McKenna, “More than ever, we recognize the need to support projects that are ready to go, create jobs and get cars off the road.”

The report suggests the project can be completed if both the province and Ottawa put in $1.2 billion each, and the private sector picks up the balance.

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Mancinelli says he hopes to get some “good news” in the next few weeks from both levels of government, but admits time is of the essence.

“Every time they postpone, it just costs more and more,” Mancinelli said. “The ability to get it done becomes harder and harder because it becomes more expensive every year that goes by. We really need to expedite the process here.”

Read more: LiUNA leader calls demise of Hamilton’s LRT ‘disturbing’

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 area’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.”

The province told Global News that an LRT in Hamilton could be an option if “additional capital funding is identified.”

However, the minsitry of transportation did not reveal any timelines on when discussions would resume for a potential city transportation plan saying the COVID-19 pandemic has affected “timing around further engagement, discussions and decisions.”