Special Report: Light Rail

Letter from Transport Minister Confirming LRT to Eastgate

Minister Steven Del Duca sent Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger a letter on April 26 confirming that the Province will extend LRT to Eastgate, contingent on Council support and available funding.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 28, 2017

A major factor in Wednesday's historic City Council vote to advance the city's Light Rail Transit (LRT) project was the last-minute announcement by Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca that the Province is committed to extending the LRT line to Eastgate Square.

B-Line LRT route with Eastgate extension included
B-Line LRT route with Eastgate extension included

In May 2015, the Province announced full capital funding for B-Line LRT from McMaster to Queenston Traffic Circle, with a spur line on James Street North connecting to the West Harbour GO Station. At the time, Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca also confirmed that the Province's long-term goal was to extend the B-Line to Eastgate in a future phase.

Earlier this year, the Province eliminated the James North Spur after an analysis concluded that it would provide poor value for money. The approximately $125 million cost of the Spur line would be directed toward a full A-Line bus rapid transit (BRT) line instead.

The two Mountain councillors whose wards would benefit from BRT along Upper James both reacted negatively to the project, complaining about lost traffic lanes on Upper James and calling the announcement a "joke".

More recently, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead began insisting that the B-Line LRT extend all the way to Eastgate Square as a condition for his continued support of the project. After two mammoth 13-hour General Issues Committee meetings in which Councillors could not agree to submit a mandatory Environmental Project Report amendment for the LRT Environmental Assessment, it became cleear that a Provincial commitment to Eastgate might be the only way to save the project.

Rendering of LRT vehicle on King Street
Rendering of LRT vehicle on King Street

Terminating at Eastgate is the best decision for the overall success of the LRT system. It provides direct LRT access to Stoney Creek and connects to a major east-end transit terminal. Between removing the James North spur and value-engineering the rest of the B-Line, it seems clear that the entire project can be funded within the $1 billion envelope.

The Province agreed, and Minister Del Duca sent Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger a letter on April 26 confirming that the Province will extend LRT to Eastgate, contingent on Council support and available funding.

Following is the full text of Minister Del Duca's letter:

Dear Mayor Eisenberger,

Thank you for your letter dated April 24, 2017, regarding the upcoming decision by Hamilton City Council related to rapid transit in Hamilton. I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

In light of recent deliberations by City Council with respect to the approval of the Environmental Assessment Addendum for the Hamilton light rail transit (LRT) project, I am writing to you today to provide further confirmation of the province's continued commitment to working collaboratively with the City of Hamilton to advance the LRT project as a priority regional transit iniiative under our Moving Ontario Forward plan.

As you are aware, in May 2015, the province committed a $1 billion (2014$) capital investment through the Moving Ontario Forward plan to build a new LRT line in the City of Hamilton. The announced LRT project proposed new, modern light rail vehicles on tracks separated from regular traffic from McMaster University through downtown Hamilton to Queenston Circle, and a spur connecting directly to the new West Harbour GO Station.

At that time, the extension of the LRT to Eastgate Square was envisioned as a second phase of the LRT project. Subsequently, in February 2017, the province announced planning for a proposed 16 km bus rapid transit (BRT) line that would connect the Hamilton waterfront to Hamilton International Airport, thereby replacing the previously announced LRT spur to the West Harbour GO Station.

Given the funds made available from the removal of the LRT spur, I can confirm that the Province will work to add the Eastgate extension to the current project scope and procurement. This would be contingent upon Hamilton City Council support as well as the consideration of available funding to address any additional cost requirements, if necessary. The Province will work with the City to explore ways to reduce costs to accommodate the extension within the original project budget.

The province respects the importance of municipal decision-making to support our transit investments. The Hamilton LRT project - one of the largest infrastructure projects in the City's history - will help grow the economy, manage congestion, reduce travel times, and connect people to jobs and to other transit systems.

Investments like these brings us one step closer to laying the foundation for an integrated regional transportation network, which will provide additional mobility options and make travel easier and more seamless for people throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

We look forward to continuing to work with the City to build transit that is in the best interest of the people of Hamilton and the broader region.

Sincerely,

Steven Del Duca
Minister

Following is the April 24 letter from Mayor Eisenberger to Minister Del Duca:

Dear Minister Del Duca,

An important decision is before Hamilton City Council on Wednesday, April 26: to submit for approval the B-Line Light Rail Transit (LRT) Environmental Project Report (EPR) Addendum to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. This is the next step before preparing the RFP and initiating discussions on the operating and maintenance agreement.

The Province's $1-billion LRT project is the single largest economic stimulus project our community has ever experienced. This unprecedented investment in modern public transit will support future connectivity across our city and contribute to Hamilton's ongoing revitalization.

In our efforts to ensure that the approved B-Line LRT is the best possible transit option, it is clear following recent lengthy meetings and continued consultation with the community and council that there is continued strong interest in extending the B-Line to the full route from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.

Indeed, Hamilton's 2013 Rapid Ready Report identified that the best initial investment in an east-west B-Line route to be from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Originally included in the Environmental Project Report submitted in 2011, the full route between McMaster and Eastgate was approved by the Ministry of the Environment.

As you know, when the LRT project was announced in 2015, the B-Line route was truncated by three kilometres, stopping at Queenston Traffic Circle, in order to include a two kilometre spur line to run north from the main line to the West Harbour GO station. As planning progressed it was determined the street was too narrow for a dedicated LRT lane on the spur line, so it would instead run on tracks in the same lane as regular traffic, making it in essence a streetcar. When Metrolinx planners determined the spur line no longer made sense, the provincial government agreed to cancel it.

However, the cancellation of the spur line did not result in the restoration of the original B-Line to Eastgate Square.

When we consider the Province's current plans for GO expansion to Stoney Creek, there is a compelling case to restore and re-incorporate into the current project plan the three-kilometres of the B-Line to Eastgate Square.

Our goal is to build Hamilton's LRT to Eastgate and secure the necessary funds to do so now. We believe the associated cost savings from the elimination of the James Stree spurl line combined with the deferral of planning for the A-Line BRT will provide the opportunity to include the three-kilometre extension to Eastgate Square in the current procurement process. I would be happy to discuss this with you in greater detail and welcome further discussions between Metrolinx and our LRT office to continue to advance this vital transit infrastructure in our community.

Sincerely,

Fred Eisenberger,
Mayor

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2017 at 06:33:21

"The *initial* route was shortened to allow for a "spur line" — in other words, a line going up James North to the new GO station — to connect LRT to GO transit." (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/premier-pledges-1-billion-for-hamilton-lrt-and-expanded-go-1.3087268)

Now the spur line has been eliminated. And now Hamilton is on the hook for the "extension": "This would be contingent upon Hamilton City Council support as well as the consideration of available funding to address any additional cost requirements, if necessary." Does this seem fair? I understand Ryan lawyering up and trying to spin this one way but I've heard "full capital funding" and "Eastgate" so many times it seems strange to hear now that full funding never included Eastgate. Except it did because the extension was always planned. Read my qoute above: "the *intitial* route". Look at any LRT map and the Eastgate terminus is clearly indicated. Look at the map *on this page*. What does it mean? It shows Eastgate connected to Nash and the lines are all one color. There's nothing "extension" or "Phase 2" about it! It's worse when you realize they removed it because the Spur was added and prioritized. And then they turn around and say the Spur was "never a good idea" and "the weakest part of the plan." If it was *never* a good a idea and the weakest part of the plan then why was it added? Now that Eastgate is a better idea (again it was *always* included; don't let them fool you into thinking it wasn't) though we don't get the money and Hamilton has to kick in? They straight up punked us. And it won't be the last time. This is a clear demonstration of Metrolinx's incompetence. I knew from the start that the Spur was useless and Eastgate was the priority but Metrolinx didn't? And now they can't afford it? It's fully funded. Right guys? Thank goodness we didn't add the Bay St stop. That was $2.6 million out of Hamilton's pockets right there.

Edits: spelling

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-29 06:39:15

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2017 at 06:59:33

At the least, consider this: when the "extension" was eliminated for the spur then you have to ask how much did the spur cost compared to the extension? If it was less (it was) then where did that extra money go? It should have been kept in the original budget, right? So now that we've eliminated the spur the budget is exactly the same.

They removed Eastgate to pay for James. The savings from Eastgate either paid for James 1:1 or saved more than James would cost and left cash over. In either case we can pay for Eastgate again from the *original* budget. Where is the left over cash? I'm starting to realize this was Metrolinx's plan from the start to de-scope the project.

Grandma gives you $1000 to spend at the camera store for a camera and two lenses. You pick out a camera, and a couple of lenses: $800 camera, and $200 lens. Then grandma tells you put the lens back and get a $50 lens instead. Okay you say. She never changed the budget. You still have $1000 and now you've only spent $850. Then she tells you put the new lens back too; the $50 lens. So now you've still got the $800 camera you picked out and $200 hasn't been spent. Then you tell her, look you really need a lens to go with your camera. Okay she says. But you gotta pay for it yourself now. Look grandma, you gave me a $1000 to spend here, I picked out what I needed within the budget, you told me to put the lenses back and then you told me I could have one as long as I paid for it. What's going on here? There's $200 left over and I already picked out 2 lenses that cost less than that. See, what you don't realize is that the camera you picked out really costs $1000 now and grandma didn't have the heart to tell you but still wants you to get the camera because it's so shiny and cool. At the very least you know something's amiss because where did that first $150 in savings go when she made you put back the expensive lens for the cheaper one? It just "disappeared."

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-29 07:20:42

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