Special Report: Light Rail

No New Information in Metrolinx Announcement

Our political leaders need to champion the cause of a fair deal for Hamilton, take the long view on Hamilton's return on investment and shepherd this project to a successful completion.

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 30, 2012

Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig reaffirmed at a press conference yesterday that Hamilton's east-west LRT line is still a priority for the regional transportation coordinator, but that the city will be expected to come up with some share of the capital funding.

Rendering of B-Line LRT
Rendering of B-Line LRT

The first phase of regional transportation projects, including the Sheppard East LRT, Etobicoke-Finch West LRT, Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT and a replaced Scarborough RT in Toronto, is already in progress and has been fully funded through the initial Metrolinx funding envelope of $16 billion.

The next phase will start with a Downtown Relief subway line for Toronto and a northern extension of the Yonge subway line to Richmond Hill. It will also include Hamilton's LRT line, LRT in Mississauga and Brampton, and bus rapid transit (BRT) in Durham, Toronto, Peel and Halton. The GO Train network will be expanded with additional all-day service, a rail link to Pearson International Airport and electrification of the Lakeshore lines.

However, the funding for this next phase has not yet been determined. Metrolinx plans to deliver an investment strategy next June that will outline funding sources for the remaining $34 billion in projects.

Hamilton's Share Unknown

Asked to confirm whether Hamilton will have to pay one third of the approximately $1 billion cost of the LRT, McCuaig demurred.

What I can tell in Hamilton and for all the other communities is that first we need an investment strategy that sets out, here are the revenue tools. Some of those tools could be provincial, some of them could be local. What the actual split between provincial and municipal, I don't think I can give you that information at this point in time.

However, he did confirm that municipalities will be expected to contribute something.

I think there's an expectation, there's going to be use of both what are normally considered to be provincial funding tools and municipal funding tools. What those tools are and what the spread between and the rates are, we'll have to see as we come up with our final advice in June.

This follows the August announcement by Transport Minister Bob Chiarelli that Hamilton would have to contribute something toward the capital cost of its LRT line.

Hamilton's east-west LRT, called the B-Line, was identified in the 2008 Regional Transportation Plan as one of the top transit priorities to be completed in the first 15 years.

No New Information

Essentially, yesterday's announcement merely reconfirms what we already knew - or rather, already didn't know - about the provincial status of the B-Line. It has been difficult to get straight answers out of Metrolinx or the Ministry of Transport on a commitment and funding for Hamilton's LRT, and the essential questions remain unanswered.

We already knew Hamilton's LRT would be part of the next phase of projects after the initial $16 billion ran out, we already knew Hamilton would have to come up with some unknown portion of the capital cost, and we already knew that these questions will not be answered until after Metrolinx delivers its investment strategy next summer.

None of these have changed with yesterday's announcement.

We also knew that the decision making process for Metrolinx funding has shifted from the arms-length transit body to the Ministry of Transport and has therefore become political. The City of Hamilton needs to make sure we are doing the political leg work to ensure Hamilton's LRT gets the biggest possible financial commitment from the Province.

After all, the LRT lines in Toronto are 100 percent capital funded through Metrolinx and Hamilton deserves a similar deal to the extent possible, given the new fiscal picture at the provincial level.

The city should also press hard for the tools it needs to generate its share of the money. Those might be new taxing powers or the ability to borrow via tax increment financing.

Council Needs to Stay the Course

The most important thing right now is for Council not to panic. We don't know any more today than we knew yesterday, and Council should stay the course on completing the design work that is underway while continuing to lobby the Province for a fair financial commitment.

It has always been understood that Hamilton would have to assume some share of the capital cost. As early as November 2008, then-Metrolinx Chair Rob MacIsaac said Metrolinx would be prepared "to pay the lion's share" of the B-Line, implying that Hamilton would have to contribute something.

LRT is too important to the city's future to abandon when a viable funding model is still in sight. Even with some capital contribution, Hamilton stands to benefit tremendously from new assessment growth around the line and increased viability of its urban core.

We just need our political leaders to champion the cause of a fair deal for Hamilton, take the long view on Hamilton's return on investment and shepherd this project to a successful completion.

Video Streams

Joey Coleman recorded live streams of yesterday's press conference.

Bruce McCuaig Speech

Media Scrum after Speech

Interview with Richard Koroscil

Richard Koroscil is Hamilton's representative on the Metrolinx Board.

Update: Metrolinx has provided a bit more detail on the implications of yesterday's announcement for Hamilton.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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[ - ]

By C (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2012 at 08:34:31

$500m for aerotroplis vs $? for LRT.

We have the money apparently. Do we have our priorities set correctly?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted December 01, 2012 at 04:18:44 in reply to Comment 83325

Actually, we don't have the money, but whatever...

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[ - ]

By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2012 at 08:41:39

This announcement was just like going back to the fall of 2008. Thank goodness for CivicAction tending the flame. Metrolinx seems to be idling.

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[ - ]

By kettal (registered) | Posted November 30, 2012 at 20:48:46

The funding strategy is due in June, and we can expect it will include some sort of sales tax, property tax, or gas tax.

That's where the money will come from. Not the magical pot of gold which does not exist in Queens Park.

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[ - ]

By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 13:03:00

Elsewhere in Ontario LRT....

Rideau Transit Group wins ‘Confederation Line’ LRT contract

As expected, City of Ottawa staff have selected the Rideau Transit Group consortium as their choice to build the city’s $2.1-billion light-rail transit system.

The announcement was made with great fanfare Wednesday morning at City Hall, with Premier Dalton McGuinty, Mayor Jim Watson and other dignitaries in attendance.

Much of the 12.5-kilometre east-west ‘Confederation Line’ that includes a 2.5-kilometre downtown tunnel will be completed by 2017, Watson said, and the entire route is expected to be in service by May of the following year.

It was announced Wednesday that the Alstom Citadis trains are to be used, with each single 49-metre low-floor car capable of carrying 300 passengers. They’re billed as being good in heavy snow and cold weather, and capable of reaching speeds of up to 100 km/h. Trains are to be assembled in Ottawa, and 30 vehicles are to be in service on opening day.

Watson also unveiled photographs of the designs for the system’s 13 stations, which are to feature simple designs and incorporate wood from trees killed off by the emerald ash borer, according to the city. They’re also to have “extensive” features for cyclists, the city says.

“This is a tremendous achievement and great reassurance for council, our residents, and most of all our taxpayers,” Watson said.

The Rideau Transit Group bid is led by a builder, ACS Infrastructure, rather than a train-maker. And it includes a big Canadian component, with Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and assorted subsidiaries playing roles as financiers, engineers, operators and maintenance overseers.

SNC-Lavalin has overseen new rail lines in Vancouver that transit authorities there are very happy with, but it’s also been implicated in a kickback scheme in Libya — Swiss authorities are investigating payments made in connection with a prison-construction contract there — and a bridge-building scheme in Bangladesh so dirty that the World Bank withdrew financing.

The consortium also includes Ottawa firm bbb architects, best known here for designing the new downtown convention centre, and construction firm EllisDon, whose highest-profile current work is at Lansdowne Park.

Following Wednesday’s announcement, the city is opening a two-week “showcase” of the winning bid that will be on display at City Hall till Dec. 19, and have a travelling component that sets up at community centres and malls across town for a day or two at a time. The full schedule is at ottawalightrail.ca.

Councillors are to debate the staff recommendation twice — first on Dec. 12 and again on the day they take a final vote on signing the contract on Dec. 19.

The project would be expected to start in February with related work to widen Highway 417 from the Nicholas Street on-ramp to the split with Highway 174 and construction of a maintenance and storage facility at Belfast Road where trains are to be assembled. Work on the tunnel is expected to start in July.

Rideau Transit Group has agreed to a fixed-price contract of $2.1-billion, meaning that any increased costs related to construction won’t be the city’s responsibility, according to the city.


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