The Ontario Government cannot afford not to invest in coordinated higher-order transit if we want the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to have a bright future.
By Ryan McGreal
Published August 29, 2012
According to Don Hull, Director of Transportation for the City of Hamilton, the city has "no formal notification from Metrolinx to confirm the funding formula" for Hamilton's planned east-west Light Rail Transit (LRT) line. However, the city has "been asked to look at cost mitigation alternatives, such as phasing the LRT construction."
Metrolinx is the arms-length Provincial organization mandated to coordinate and fund regional higher-order transportation projects across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).
In an email response to RTH, Hull also notes:
[I]n the Staff report of October 2011, under Financial Implications, Staff reported that, "Financial impact analysis was prepared using a senior government grant assumption ranging from 100 percent to 50 percent funding."
The staff report [PDF] further notes:
Based on this assumption, the City's financial share of the LRT project could range from $0 to $509 million, which would be debt financed.
With other LRT projects that have been approved by Metrolinx for the GTHA, including the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in Toronto, Metrolinx is paying 100 percent of the direct capital costs and will own and operate the line.
According to Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, Metrolinx officials have told Hamilton that the funding model has been that Metrolinx will fund 100% of the capital cost for a Hamilton LRT as well.
However, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Transport (MTO) recently told RTH that funding for Metrolinx projects that have not already been approved will be "determined on a case-by-case basis".
This came after Transport Minister Bob Chiarelli told Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina that "all municipalities are expected to be contributors" to Metrolinx projects in their jurisdictions, as Bratina summarized in a recent blog post.
According to Bratina, Chiaralli also asked whether "we had pursued LRT funding with the Federal Government." This is an ominous question, as it throws into doubt the Ontario Government's basic commitment to the principles that underlie Metrolinx.
The purpose of creating Metrolinx was to replace the previous ad-hoc approach to higher order transit investment with a coordinated, fully-funded regional strategy that would provide the GTHA with a functional transportation network to meet present and future needs.
After decades of underinvestment in regional transit, Ontario suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in North America, with significant negative impacts on productivity growth and air quality.
Air pollution kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer or motor vehicle accidents. Locally, over 100 Hamiltonians die prematurely every year due to air pollution, of which more than half comes from vehicle exhaust - and in Hamilton, residential output of vehicle exhaust is getting worse, not better.
In any case, more highways are absolutely not a viable solution. As Paul Bedford, chief planner emeritus for Toronto and a former member of the Metrolinx Board told a Hamilton audience last year, it would require another four Don Valley Parkways and another four QEWs to carry the number of people who move through Union Station daily.
The cost of adding highway capacity is extremely high. One lane-kilometre of highway in Ontario costs around $25 million dollars, so a new 25 km, six-lane highway would cost around $3.75 billion to build - not including maintenance and life-cycle costs.
Adding more highway capacity in built-up areas with difficult terrain can bump the price by an order of magnitude: the cost of the Windsor-Essex Parkway is a crushing $168 million per lane-km.
Even if it were possible to build enough highway capacity to alleviate congestion, lane capacity itself generates more traffic in a self-defeating feedback loop. Ontario has been stuck on the highway "predict and provide" treadmill for decades, and it's not working.
The 25-year Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan, titled The Big Move, states in part:
The emergence of the GTHA as one of the largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America in the 1970s and 1980s was spurred, in part, by a regional transportation network that was ahead of its time.
In the last generation, however, we have not sufficiently invested in the region's transportation network. As a result, every year, congested roads and overtaxed transit systems result in billions of dollars lost from our economy through delays, wasted energy and dirty air.
We are releasing The Big Move at a time of significant economic uncertainty. Despite this, we believe that now, more than ever, acting on the recommendations in the RTP is critically important. The RTP will not only reclaim our region's traditional transportation advantage, but also bolster our global competitiveness, protect our environment, and improve our quality of life.
The Ontario government appears to be positioning itself to cry austerity and claim it cannot afford to keep funding regional higher-order transit, but the painful fact is that we cannot afford not to make these investments if we want the GTHA to have a bright future as an economically sustainable centre.
The GTHA is already suffering today from decades of underinvestment in regional transit. Putting off essential investments in connectivity will only continue to drag on our economic productivity while miring millions of commuters in gridlock and dooming hundreds of residents to early deaths.