It would be deeply irresponsible of Council not to work all-out with the Province to put in a winning bid in to the Federal Government to help us build our LRT system.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 16, 2020
Yesterday, Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna announced that Ottawa is preparing plans to spend billions of dollars on shovel-ready infrastructure projects to stimulate the Canadian economy.
This stimulus will be vital to helping Canadians recover from the huge economic impact of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Although the Federal government will consider smaller projects, McKenna said that she has been influenced by US President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which focused on massive infrastructure projects, such as rural electrification, as a way to get Americans back to work during the Great Depression.
Clearly, Ottawa will be looking for major shovel-ready infrastructure projects that will provide thousands of person hours of work over several years, as well as long-term economic and social benefits to the community.
Fortunately for Hamilton, we are among the very few cities that has such a major infrastructure project ready to go.
Luckily for Hamilton, partly because of delay and squabbling, we have exactly such a project. Our Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan should be a no-brainer for the Federal Government to fund and for the Province to support.
We will face little competition in the "major infrastructure" category since such projects require years of study, public consultation, environmental assessment and detailed design and costing. You cannot just pull them together at a moment's notice based on some vague wish list.
Our LRT project has been under development since 2008, gone through many feasibility and benefits analyses by multiple organizations, and has an approved environmental assessment. In fact, we were waiting for the final bids to come in when the project was suddenly cancelled in December.
It has since turned out that the budget concerns cited as the reason to cancel the project were not serious. The previous government had already approved a $3.65B 30-year budget for the project, and all indications were that the project was still on target to meet it.
In any case, the prospect that the Federal Government will now pick up a significant part of the cost should put any doubts to rest.
As Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel pointed out in a recent opinion piece, one of the main advantages of LRT over other the alternatives is its demonstrated superiority in boosting economic development both during construction and over the lifetime of the project.
In concrete terms, this means thousands of jobs during the construction phase (projected to last 3-5 years) and billions in new investment over the lifetime of the system.
We should not forget that LRT is also superior rapid transit and will help improve the performance and attractiveness of the entire HSR system, as well as saving the city money.
The City of Hamilton has just announced that it is projecting a deficit of at least $23 million due to COVID-19, and it will probably be much more.
Under these conditions, it would be deeply irresponsible of Hamilton's Mayor and Council not to immediately put their differences and hesitations aside and work all-out with the Province to put in a winning bid to the Federal Government to help us build our LRT system. We need this stimulus and infrastructure now!
The flipside is that if we do not get funding for our rapid transit system now, we will not get anything for decades.
Not only will we be seen as an unreliable investment partner, but the huge debt that the Province and Federal governments are taking on means that funding will be scarce for many years to come.
Not so long ago, members of Council who had become skeptical of LRT solemnly pledged to bury the hatchet and work together to ensure the Province keeps its promise and that Hamilton gets the best possible LRT system possible. Recently, some Councillors seem to have forgotten why they felt it necessary to publicly reaffirm their support for LRT.
With the promise of federal funding and an urgent need for economic stimulus, now is the time for Council to renew their pledges and redouble their efforts to ensure Hamilton is treated fairly and is in the best possible position coming out of the COVID-19 recession.
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