By Ryan McGreal
Published September 28, 2012
The Hamiltonian recently posted an interview with Mayor Bob Bratina on light rail transit (LRT). The interview is worth reading in full to get a sense of the Mayor's thinking on light rail, but a couple of items jumped out.
This is a new development that goes against the funding model for Toronto's Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is being fully funded by Metrolinx, and against the expectations of Council, who have been told that 100% capital funding is the Metrolinx model.
On the matter of Metrolinx funding, Bratina told The Hamlitonian:
The understanding of the municipal contribution ranged in different Councillors' minds from zero to one-third of the total, which is upwards of a billion dollars. It will be up to Metrolinx to create the funding strategy which is due in 2013. The presumption is that they would work out a partnership with the Federal Government to cover the total cost of all projects, not piecemeal. The original investment strategy published by Metrolinx in the Big Move document was based on $50 billion dollars over 25 years, or $2 billion a year.
RTH contacted the Mayor and asked whether he would be willing to demand the same 100% capital funding that Metrolinx has given to the 52 km in LRT projects already approved for Toronto. He responded:
The GTA approved lines are based on relief of serious congestion problems, which have negative economic and environmental impacts. Our plans are based on the promise of new development at some time in the future. Council can, if it wishes, pass a resolution calling for the Mayor to demand 100 percent capital funding, which I would present to Metrolinx and the Province. The decision, of course, would remain in their hands.
The concern would be how many demands the City is making of the Provincial budget and what other requests might be jeopardized.
In his interview with The Hamiltonian, the mayor also made reference to the recent study (read the RTH report) published by the McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics (MITL), which states that a successful LRT plan requires "a political champion", who "can help to realize success by marshaling resources, building coalitions, and resolving disputes."
RTH asked the mayor if he can envision a circumstance in which he would politically champion Hamilton's LRT plan, given the MITL study. He responded:
[That] question requires a highly speculative reply, given that no one can say what the local budget impacts might be. To date we have little on which to base the interest of the development community in supporting the "B" line routing. (By comparison real and significant interest has materialized with regard to a Hamilton casino.)
This is not the first time Bratina has claimed that developers are not expressing interest in LRT. In mid-2011, the Spectator surveyed Hamilton's development community and found lots of support for LRT, mingled with frustration at the mixed signals coming from Hamilton's leadership.
Reporter Meredith Macleod quoted developer David Blanchard, who explained, "No one is going to run in and buy up all this stuff on a dream." The consensus was that developers are waiting to see if the city and province will actually commit to LRT.
Also in mid-2011, the City's Rapid Transit manager reported that the department was receiving interest from people looking to buy real estate along the LRT corridor and talking to developers both inside the city and outside the city "about what impact LRT would have on their future decisions to invest in Hamilton (or not)."
Those discussions were part of a Nodes and Corridors study that identified changes the City needs to make to the zoning around the LRT line to facilitate reinvestment.
The Realtors Association of Hamilton and Burlington strongly supports LRT, as does the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and a large number of neighbourhood, business and service organizations.
Meanwhile, Councillor Brad Clark has expressed outrage at Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli's announcement that the Province will not fully fund Hamilton's LRT. Clark, who was Minister of Transportation from 2001 to 2002 under former Premier Mike Harris, accused the Liberal Government of "betray[ing]" Hamilton.
There is ample evidence that the Liberals promised to pay 100 percent of the cost of a Hamilton LRT. So I was dismayed when Minister Chiarelli denied it! I was equally surprised that Mayor Bob didn't think to bring along copies of the Liberal Media Releases by the Premier and Minister McMeekin promising 100 percent funding for LRT.
He concluded, "LRT now has many more hurdles to jump."