By Ryan McGreal
Published September 19, 2011
In my recent interview with The Hamiltonian on LRT, I wrote in part:
As for all-day GO Train service: to my knowledge, Council has never directed the mayor to pursue this as a priority, but Metrolinx and the Province have indicated that it is one of their priorities.
In response, Peggy Chapman, the mayor's chief of staff, contacted The Hamiltonian to advise them of the "Senior Management Team (SMT) 2011 Work Plan (CM11005)" report, which defines a 2011 work plan for the senior management team, which includes City Manager Chris Murray and the General Managers of the major city departments.
One of the action items under the sponsorship of Planning and Economic Development General Manager Tim McCabe is:
Aggressively pursue all-day GO Service to a station on James Street North
This work plan was approved by Council.
I was not aware of this, and I appreciate Ms. Chapman contacting The Hamiltonian to provide this clarification. I'm happy to stand corrected that staff are acting under council's direction on all-day GO train service.
However, there is nothing in the report Chapman referenced to suggest that LRT should be downgraded or deprioritized.
This summer, after Chris Murray advised Council that he decided to "suspend all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative other than any work activities required to be completed under the agreement" with the Province, Metrolinx replied:
[B]oth rapid transit initiatives planned for Hamilton - the Hamilton LRT and all day GO Train service from Toronto to Hamilton - are viable and can co-exist. Hamilton's current rapid transit situation is not an 'either-or' scenario.
In fact, Metrolinx was not aware of the City Manager's decision until after it was publicized.
Another thing that jumped out at me was Chapman's statement, "The City Manager's commitment to LRT was to bring a feasibility report to Council this year".
That term - "feasibility report" - struck me. Just last week, Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin tweeted the following to me in regards to LRT:
@RyanMcGreal When Council completes the prov funded feasibility study #hamont they can determine how they want to proceed. We'll listen... [sic]
Here's the thing: the City did a two-phase feasibility study on LRT back in the spring and summer of 2008. The conclusion of the feasibility study was that Hamilton should proceed with "the functional design, detail design and construction of the B-line rapid transit corridor ... utilizing Light Rail Technology."
This conclusion was approved unanimously by Council, and staff began working with Metrolinx and the community to plan and design the B-Line LRT.
Meanwhile, Metrolinx conducted their own feasibility study, a rapid transit benefits case analysis that concluded LRT would cost more but provide a bigger overall benefit.
The "prov[incially] funded" study that McMeekin is talking about is actually a class Environmental Assessment (EA), which is required for a large capital project like an LRT line. The Province gave us a $3 million grant to complete the EA as part of our LRT planning.
In fact, not long ago the Liberal government changed the rules for a transit-related EA to make it shorter and faster - on the assumption that transit projects are intrinsically beneficial to the environment.
City staff haven't been studying the feasibility of LRT in Hamilton - that was already done years ago. They were actually designing the system.
So why is everyone suddenly talking as if we don't yet know whether LRT is a good idea for Hamilton?