By Ryan McGreal
Published November 30, 2012
Malon Edwards of Metrolinx has responded to an email request from RTH for more details on the status of Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan at the provincial level after yesterday's Metrolinx press conference.
Metrolinx and the Province have previously refused to commit to the completion of Hamilton's LRT plan, saying only that the original Metrolinx funding envelope did not include money for the LRT and that a decision would have to be made after an investment strategy is completed next June.
In the lead-up to the last provincial election, Premier Dalton McGuinty told the Spectator editorial board that all-day GO train service was the top transit priority and that "over time, we can enter into other discussions about things like the LRT."
However, at yesterday's press conference, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig specifically included Hamilton's LRT in the list of priority jobs for the next phase of project rollouts.
Asked whether this means Metrolinx is now committed to the project, Edwards responded that an update will be posted online on December 5, and that public and stakeholder consultation will take place between December 5 and mid-February. "Metrolinx will be working closely with our municipal partners to determine specifics of the project, including timing, alignment and phasing."
Edwards also confirmed that the phase 2 projects have not yet been ordered in terms of when they will be undertaken. The order and timing of roll-out for the projects "is subject to a number of considerations, including project state-of-readiness, the size of project, possible staging with other projects, and the Metrolinx Prioritization framework."
However, Metrolinx anticipates that the next wave projects will be completed "within 20 years of start of construction, with early results within the first ten years."
Asked whether yesterday's announcement tells us anything we didn't already know, Edwards pointed out that Metrolinx has conducted benefits case analyses (like the Hamilton Main-King Rapid Transit Benefits Case) and detailed engineering and design work on the projects since the original project announcement in 2008. The updated list of priority projects reflects the due-diligence work Metrolinx and the municipalities have done to confirm their viability.
He concluded, "The next step is for all of us as a region to have the big conversation about how we are going to pay for it.
We need to have a conversation with both people and businesses to determine how we invest in our future. Even though the conversation has already begun, we need to be committed to this investment if we’re going to make transportation better across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region.
Paul Bedford, the emeritus chief planner for Toronto and former Metrolinx Board member, argues the investment strategy will need to incorporate some combination of highway road pricing, a new sales tax, an employer tax, an income tax, commercial parking levies, a vehicle registration tax, and a gas tax levy.
Other jurisdictions in Canada, the USA and Europe have used various combinations of these means to raise enough money to invest in transformative higher-order transit projects, and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area will need to do the same - even if a new tax or levy is politically unpalatable.
Bedford says the Province needs to "embark on an aggressive public campaign to inform and educate the public, GTHA politicians and stakeholders in 2012" about the benefits of a strong funding model and the costs and consequences of inaction.