Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin has said that Hamilton must set its rapid transit priorities and make a good business case for LRT along the B-Line, while Metrolinx reconfirms that Hamilton needs to get its LRT plan ready before any funding decisions are made.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 21, 2011
RTH contacted Ted McMeekin, the Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, to ask where he stands on the sudden de-prioritization of light trail transit (LRT) in Hamilton.
McMeekin responded last night in a tweet that Hamilton "needs to make [a] good business case" for light rail transit. "It can be done," he added, "but serious questions are being asked." He concluded that he will continue to work with the city.
He stated clearly that it is up to Hamilton to decide what its priorities should be. "To be clear, the City has got to set priorities for the City. I trust that they will continue to work hard to do exactly that."
Without any Council vote, City Manager Chris Murray advised Council in an email last Friday that the City's top priority is now securing all-day GO service instead of LRT. Chris Phillips, the senior advisor to planning and economic development general manager Tim McCabe, has been appointed to lead a task force "to aggressively pursue all-day GO service" to stations on James North and Centennial Parkway.
It is unclear what the task force will actually do, given that the Province has already confirmed Hamilton will be getting all-day GO service. It is also unclear why the City cannot pursue both all-day GO service and LRT, given that the two transit projects complement each other and Metrolinx has clearly stated that one does not preclude the other.
In a follow-up, McMeekin wrote, "Citizens want to know if there is a good economic case for LRT and how it stacks up against other priorities."
In fact, the Province already undertook a benefits case analysis (BCA) on rapid transit along the east-west B-Line corridor in February 2010. Assuming an opening year of 2015, the BCA compared three options - full bus rapid transit (BRT), full LRT, and LRT phased in two parts - along a variety of criteria.
Full LRT was considered to be the best investment in terms of GDP growth, income, person-years of employment, development potential, land use shaping and qualitative user benefits.
McMeekin drew the same conclusion in another tweet: "LRT is not just moving people from point A to point B, more importantly it's about moving people and investment back to [the] inner city."
Asked whether the City's decision to de-prioritize LRT will cause Hamilton to lose out on the Metrolinx Top 15 Priority Projects funding, McMeekin replied, "Metrolinx and [the] City will need to answer."
He added, "It is critically important for [the] City to continue to engage citizens in this debate."
Unfortunately, by defunding the Rapid Transit office and redeploying all but one of its members to other projects, the city has just eliminated the very staff resources that were undertaking the citizen engagement McMeekin says we need.
RTH contacted Metrolinx for details on where the regional transit body stands. Spokesperson Robin Alam was circumspect but responded, "The Hamilton B-line Light Rail Transit (LRT) project was identified in our Regional Transportation Plan, The Big Move, among the priority projects. At Metrolinx, we continue to work towards the vision of our plan while making sure projects demonstrate the best value for taxpayer dollar."
Asked whether Murray's decision to sideline the LRT project will risk its position in the top 15 priority projects, Alam said, "Projects will need to be in a state of readiness for funding consideration."
Alam also said that Metrolinx has "not asked the City of Hamilton to choose one project over the other."
"It is important to remember that both rapid transit initiatives planned for Hamilton – the Hamilton LRT and all day GO Train service from Toronto to Hamilton – are viable and can co-exist. Hamilton’s current rapid transit situation is not an 'either-or' scenario."
Alam repeatedly stated that Metrolinx staff are "supporting Hamilton staff" in their efforts to get the B-Line LRT project ready for a refined cost estimate. Once the planning and design work funded by the $3 million grant is completed, likely in late Fall, "we expect to review the results of the work and look forward to collaboratively working with the City of Hamilton on identifying the most appropriate next steps for this project."
Echoing McMeekin, Alam aded that public support for the plan, "along with on-going collaboration with our partners for transit infrastructure improvements, will be critical to successfully implementing the rapid transit this region needs."
The question of how much money the Province will commit remains unclear. "The potential for new funding commitments from the Province is unknown at this time."
In their 2007 re-election campaign, the Ontario Liberals promised "two light rail lines across Hamilton".