By Ryan McGreal
Published July 22, 2011
Hamilton City Manager Chris Murray did not advice Metrolinx of his decision to suspend work on the B-Line LRT before informing Council in an email that was obtained by RTH and published on Monday.
According to Robin Alam, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, "Metrolinx was not aware of Murray's decision to scale back activities on the Hamilton LRT initiative until after he had notified Hamilton City Council."
However, she added that Metrolinx remains committed "to continue our work with the City of Hamilton regarding the $3 million in planning, design and engineering funding administered by Metrolinx."
Last Friday, without any Council vote, Murray instructed Councillors that the senior management team had decided to suspend all work on LRT beyond what the City is contractually obligated to complete in exchange for $3 million in Provincial funding to help pay for the city's consultation, design and engineering work.
Staffing at the rapid transit office is being reduced from six or seven members to just one.
Among the suspended projects is an intensification plan [PDF] along the B-Line corridor, which planning staff were undertaking in parallel with the design and environmental assessment work.
City staff have been consulting with property owners and developers to understand the regulatory barriers to infill development, so that the City can prepare a Secondary Plan along the B-Line transit corridor that encourages investment.
That work has been undertaken as part of the City's Nodes and Corridors strategy to concentrate new investment around existing urban nodes and along transportation corridors under the auspices of the Provincial Places to Grow Act.
When staff presented the B-Line intensification plan at a recent planning and economic development committee meeting, Councillors Brad Clark and Chad Collins complained that they felt they were being "slowly being backed into a corner" on LRT - even though it was Council who voted unanimously to make LRT planning a top priority.
With the new directive from Murray, who has publicly expressed skepticism about LRT, the B-Line plan has been de-prioritized and a manager has instead been appointed to lead a task force that will "aggressively pursue all-day GO service" to Hamilton.
Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson is questioning whether it is appropriate for the City Manager to change the city's transit priorities without direction from Council.
Talking to Bill Kelly on 900 CHML, Ferguson said:
Typically when you make strategic decisions, first of all it's done by Council and not by the City Manager and the Mayor alone, and it comes in the form of a staff report with their recommendations. But we never had that...
Drawing on his experience as a project manager at Dufferin Construction, Ferguson also questioned why staff can't move both LRT and all-day GO forward at the same time.
Metrolinx has clearly stated that it has "not asked the City of Hamilton to choose one project over the other" and warned that a project like LRT "will need to be in a state of readiness for funding consideration."
The environmental assessment under way for the B-Line is supposed to be completed by late Fall.