The worst thing that could happen as a result of today's meeting between Mayor Bratina and the Transport Minister is that the Province ends up making the City an offer it can't accept.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 25, 2014
This morning at 10:00 AM, Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca and Minister Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale) will visit Mayor Bob Bratina and members of the Governance Advisory Committee in a private meeting to discuss the city's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan and whether the Promise will keep its commitment to full capital funding.
B-Line LRT route map (Source: City of Hamilton)
What should be a straightforward meeting to get funding for the LRT plan sorted out has already degenerated into a fiasco before it even starts.
Minister Del Duca, who stepped into the Transport portfolio after the recent provincial election, is already on record saying it's time to stop analyzing and discussing the regional transportation plan and "move forward with the actual delivering" of that plan, which includes "Hamilton Rapid Transit" as a top priority in the next wave of projects.
During the election campaign, both former Transport Minister Glen Murray and Premier Kathleen Wynne repeated the government's long-standing promise of 100 percent capital funding for Hamilton's plan - "the same way we worked with other municipalities."
But confusing the matter, Wynne went on to say that Hamilton needs to decide what it wants.
The City's Rapid Ready report, approved unanimously by council in February 2013 and submitted to the Province, already specifies what Hamilton wants: LRT on the east-west B-Line between McMaster University and Eastgate Square as the first phase of a comprehensive rapid transit network.
Then McMeekin claimed Hamilton needs to do some detailed design work before a funding commitment is possible.
Again, the Rapid Ready plan already includes 30 percent engineering and detailed design on the line, a completed Class Environmental Assessment and a land use study to ensure that the planning framework supports new investment around the line.
B-Line LRT alignment through Gore Park (Source: City of Hamilton)
We have done everything the Province asked us to do.
There is no reason for the Province not to know what Hamilton wants, and there is no reason for the Province not to have enough information to decide that this is a project worth funding.
The Rapid Ready LRT plan was developed over five years in which the City worked very closely with Metrolinx and the Province to develop a plan that aligns closely with the Regional Transportation Plan, The Big Move.
Development of the plan followed a comprehensive Rapid Transit Feasibility Study that found a very strong business case for LRT and strong public support among an unprecedented 1,884 residents the City consulted in every ward.
Rapid Transit Preference by Ward (Source: City of Hamilton)
The B-Line Rapid Transit is specifically mentioned in the Ontario Budget that was just passed and is also included in the Next Wave list of Metrolinx projects.
We are not trying to sell the Province on some aspirational, pie-in-the-sky transit scheme. The only reason we started developing our LRT plan in the first place is because the Province told us they wanted to build two light rail transit lines in Hamilton.
The Province even gave us $3 million to complete our required Class Environmental Assessment as part of our development plan.
This is the same Liberal government that announced the MoveOntario 2020 projects in the summer of 2007, threatened during the 2007 election that Hamilton would miss out on two LRT lines if the Progressive Conservatives won, included the B-Line as a top priority project in the Regional Transportation Plan, included the B-Line in the Next Wave list of top priority projects and included the B-Line in the budget that just triggered a general election in which the Liberals won a majority.
The Province has told us repeatedly that they have been very impressed with the unprecedented level of broad citizen engagement on LRT in Hamilton - much higher than in other jurisdictions where funding commitments and investments have already been made.
So what is going on? We have a mayor who has persistently undermined and confused the city's LRT plan and manufactured controversy about it, despite having campaigned for election in 2010 on a pro-LRT platform.
Bratina triggered a crisis in 2011 when he told former Premier Dalton McGuinty that all-day GO service, not LRT, was the city's priority.
Bratina said publicly that LRT was "not a priority" and had City Manger Chris Murray unilaterally suspend the Rapid Transit office, throwing the project into disarray and costing both momentum and talented staff.
That is why it's particularly inappropriate for this meeting to happen at all, let alone in secret. The very reason Bratina has a "governance advisory committee" is that Council grew tired of the Mayor misrepresenting their position in his communications with the Province.
Bratina's consistent signal that Hamilton doesn't really want LRT after all must be music to the ears of a Provincial government on the hook for billions of dollars in transportation investment against the backdrop of a large deficit and debt.
The worst thing that could happen as a result of this meeting is that the Province ends up making the City an offer it can't accept - a dysfunctional funding commitment designed for Council to turn it down and let Queen's Park off the hook.
Just this week, with very short notice and in the middle of summer, nearly 200 people have already written personal messages of LRT support - not just clicking a petition button - and sent them to Council and the Province.
The Mayor's Office has announced a media scrum outside the 2nd floor south entrance of City Hall at 11:30 AM. I know it's really short notice, but I encourage as many people as possible to be in attendance.
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