Rapid Transit staff on track to complete their 2012 work plan on the B-Line LRT. Once the work is finished, Metrolinx will make a funding decision.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 10, 2012
this article has been updated
The City of Hamilton is taking a two-track approach to the planned Light Rail Transit (LRT) line along the east-west B-Line corridor. The Public Works department is undertaking the engineering, functional design and detail design of the line itself, while the Planning department is concurrently preparing a land use strategy for the transit corridor 400 metres to either side of the line.
Last month, the planning committee approved a corridor planning strategy [PDF] that leverages LRT to drive new economic development in the form of increased density and diversity of uses along the corridor, and in particular around specified growth nodes.
However, we haven't heard much about the design side of the project since last October, and I wanted to get a sense of how the work is progressing - especially after last summer's fiasco of mixed messaging and staffing turmoil.
This proved to be a bit of a challenge. Several emails to the Rapid Transit department's email address, email@example.com went unanswered, and the City's Rapid Transit web page still listed Jill Stephen as the project manager, even though Stephen resigned from the city back in September 2011.
According to Kelly Anderson, public affairs coordinator for the Public Works department, Stephen's position was not filled. The Rapid Transit team now reports to transportation director Don Hull as part of a larger integrated transit organization.
Anderson explained that the City maintains current information on its dedicated Rapid Transit website, http://hamiltonrapidtransit.ca, though older pages on the City website were still coming up in web searches. I've since noticed that those pages now redirect to the new site.
Anderson also put me in touch with Justin Readman, a Rapid Transit manager, who provided further details about the city's efforts.
Last October, 2011, Public Works staff presented an update to the General Issues Committee [PDF] on the status of the LRT planning, design and engineering process.
The report noted that Hamilton is "at least two years ahead of other projects, in terms of implementation readiness, including the Hurontario LRT project in Mississauga/Brampton."
It further affirmed Metrolinx's position that Hamilton is "not required to prioritize between LRT and GO service extension, as LRT is a local transit service whereas GO serves an inter-regional function."
Council approved a 2012 work plan that includes the following items:
Council also approved the following resolution:
That Senior Management Team develop an organizational structure and community engagement strategy to support, over the long term, an integrated public transportation program for the City that encompasses provincial, inter-regional, inter-city, rapid transit, public transit, active transportation and transportation demand management no later than Q1 2012.
As Readman explained, the new public transportation organization is called "Mobility Programs and Special Projects" and it integrates the Rapid Transit office with the HSR, DARTS, Active Transportation (cycling, walking and ride share) and Transportation Demand Management office, and coordinates links with provincial, inter-regional and inter-city transportation.
The organization has eight staff members, of which five are working on the 2012 Rapid Transit work plan. The team reports to Christine Lee-Morrison, manager of mobility programs and special projects, who in turn reports to Don Hull, the director of transportation.
This work plan broadly corresponds with the list of outstanding work identified by Metrolinx. According to Malon Edwards at Metrolinx, with the completion of work funded under the $3 million Planning, Design and Engineering grant from Metrolinx, the subsequent items "require next steps decision making from the City of Hamilton." The list of projects includes:
Maintenance and Storage Facility site selection and Environmental Assessment amendment;
Phasing strategy and updated design and costs;
Continued planning and design work with McMaster University and GO Transit at the McMaster Terminus; and
A Value for Money (VFM) exercise to determine optimum method of project procurement.
Metrolinx will review Hamilton's bid for LRT funding once this work is complete.
According to Readman, the City's Rapid Transit team in on track to completing its 2012 work plan on time.
In January 2012, the city issued a Statement of Completion [PDF] on its Environmental Project Report - the streamlined class environmental assessment that applies to transit projects - for the B-Line alignment. The Statement of Completion means the EPR was completed, submitted and approved by the Ministry of the Environment.
A feasibility study for the proposed north-south A-Line LRT will be completed this month and posted on the Rapid Transit website by mid-to-late May.
The location assessment and environmental assessment for the Maintenance and Storage Facility are underway. Staff should be able to provide more details on the location in June.
Metrolinx requires every transit project to undertake a phasing strategy. The City will evaluate both the option to build the entire McMaster-to-Eastgate line at once and also the option to build the line in phases. The phasing study will determine which option is the more cost-effective.
In the interest of due diligence and at the request of Metrolinx, the City is developing and evaluating phasing options for the B-Line. Hamilton will include the full B-Line route as outlined in the Environmental Project Report (McMaster to Eastgate). The evaluation is appropriate as there is more information about the project including refined costs and benefits.
The phasing evaluation will use Multiple Account Evaluation inputs to determine whether phasing is appropriate for this project. This item is in progress and expected to be complete by the end of 2012.
The Metrolinx King-Main Rapid Transit Benefits Case Analysis published in February 2010 determined that a phased LRT (with projected opening years of 2015 and 2030) would have a lower initial cost but would also have lower economic development potential.
It concluded, "the highest cost option (the full LRT along the Main Street-King Street corridor), with estimated capital and operating costs of $784 million in net present value terms, also generates the highest Transportation User Benefits."
Metrolinx also requires the completion of a Value for Money (VFM) exercise to determine the best method of project procurement. That effort will be led by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) in cooperation with the City of Hamilton and Metrolinx.
RTH has requested a timeline for the VFM from IO. We will update this article if and when we get a response.
As part of its next-steps planning, the City will prepare an up-to-date cost estimate that includes the Maintenance and Storage Facility. Once the work is complete, Metrolinx will evaluate the city's proposal and decide how to proceed.
Metrolinx funding for Hamilton's LRT hinges on a comprehensive Investment Strategy, which the Province has asked the transit organization to prepare by June 2013.
The Regional Transportation Plan, titled The Big Move: Transforming Transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area identified over $50 billion in transit projects over 25 years.
However, Metrolinx was founded with only an $18.5 billion capital endowment and needs to determine how to raise the other $32 billion to fund the rest of the projects.
According to Edwards at Metrolinx, "We're in the process of looking at different options to fund and sustain transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area."
Paul Bedford, the emeritus chief planner for Toronto and former Metrolinx Board member, argues the investment strategy will need to incorporate some combination of highway road pricing, a new sales tax, an employer tax, an income tax, commercial parking levies, a vehicle registration tax, and a gas tax levy.
Other jurisdictions in Canada, the USA and Europe have used various combinations of these means to raise enough money to invest in transformative higher-order transit projects, and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area will need to do the same - even if a new tax or levy is politically unpalatable.
Bedford says the Province needs to "embark on an aggressive public campaign to inform and educate the public, GTHA politicians and stakeholders in 2012" about the benefits of a strong funding model and the costs and consequences of inaction.
Hamilton's B-Line LRT was identified in The Big Move as one of the top priority projects to be completed in the first ten years of the plan.
It was widely assumed that this meant some of the original Metrolinx endowment would be earmarked for the B-Line. However, Edwards clarifies that no Metrolinx funding has been committed to Hamilton's B-Line, and that any funding commitment will depend on the Metrolinx Investment Strategy.
No original endowment or $18.5 billion envelope has been set aside for the Hamilton LRT project. The Investment Strategy, to be delivered in June 2013, will recommend a sustainable funding and financing framework to advance the Hamilton LRT and other unfunded projects in our Regional Transportation Plan.
Last September, a frustrated Council voted overwhelmingly to call on the Province to confirm its commitment to LRT "to fully fund two LRT lines and use of Gas Tax for operating costs."
This call came in response to a pre-election claim by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty that All-Day GO Train service was the city's top priority and that "over time, we can enter into other discussions about things like the LRT."
This was in contrast to the Ontario Liberal Party's 2007 election campaign, in which the party warned that if the Liberals didn't win, "the Conservatives would put rapid transit projects through MoveOntario 2020 - including two light rail lines across Hamilton - at risk."
The province replied by insisting that it could not make a funding commitment until the necessary planning and design work was completed.
Update: Paragraph added to note that the city has requested more money from Metrolinx to help pay for its LRT planning. You can jump to the added paragraph.