Special Report: Light Rail

Hamilton is Already Committed to Completing Light Rail

The anti-LRT councillors are on notice: if they attempt to kill this project in bad faith, Hamilton will be liable for the money Metrolinx has spent implementing it after Council committed to it.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published October 27, 2016

Hamilton City Council has agreed with Metrolinx to build the approved and fully funded light rail transit (LRT) system, and Council must continue to work with Metrolinx in good faith to accomplish that goal.

The October 25, 2016 General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting was really supposed to be a straightforward update by the City's LRT Office on the progress they've made working with Metrolinx to implement the City's LRT plan.

Seen from afar, this should have been uncontroversial: Council has steadfastly pursued LRT for the B-line through 45 votes, starting in 2008, and the Province agreed to the City's request for full capital funding of the direct costs.

However, a few Councillors have started having second thoughts - despite supporting LRT consistently in the past - and have been trying to figure out a way to kill the project, even though it is now being implemented.

This turned the meeting into a bizarre marathon of pointless questions, and it motivated seven anti-LRT and 19 pro-LRT residents and organizations to make presentations because it seemed the future of the project might be in doubt.

The one positive part of this meeting is that both the City Solicitor, Janice Atwood-Petrovski, and the City Integrity Commissioner, George Rust-d'Eye, made it crystal clear that this term of Council had agreed to implement the LRT project in collaboration with Metrolinx.

Decision Has Already Been Made

The decision has already been made - three times over! - and it would therefore require a two-thirds majority vote by Council to consider any motion that would have the effect of reversing this support or stopping or stalling the project.

This should have been absolutely clear to the anti-LRT Councillors, some of whom actually supported all of these motions. Below, I've highlighted the key passages from these motions (emphasis added):

1. Fostering the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Project

Council voted to approve this on August 14, 2015.

That the City Manager create a light rail transit (LRT) office as a means to coordinate work with Metrolinx and engage the broader community in the building of an LRT in Hamilton.

2. Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)

Council voted to adopt this on February 10, 2016.

The Parties affirm their commitment to proceed expeditiously, diligently and in good faith and in a co-operative and collaborative manner to negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement or agreements to include, among other things, the matters set forth in this Memorandum of Agreement to facilitate and expedite the construction and completion of the Project.

3. Real Estate Services Protocol

Council voted to adopt this on June 22, 2016.

The purpose of this Real Estate Services Protocol is to set out the Services (as defined below) to be provided by the City to Metrolinx to acquire real property required for the Hamilton LRT and the roles and responsibilities of each of Metrolinx and the City pertaining to such Services. The City and Metrolinx will act collaboratively, cooperatively and in good faith with a view to ensuring acquisition of the real properties within the applicable delivery dates.

Commitment to Build LRT

No reasonable person could read the text of these motions and agreements with Metrolinx and see anything other than a decision to work with Metrolinx to build the LRT project. In particular, Metrolinx itself could only assume that the City was fully committed to working with it to build LRT.

It is disingenuous in the extreme to try to claim, as Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead did, that Council was simply trying to keep its options open and avoid making an actual decision. Both the Fostering The LRT and MOA motions say explicitly that the City is going to work with Metrolinx to build an LRT!

Anyone who has served on a board of directors or committee knows that, contrary to what Councillor Whitehead claimed, it is the final vote that counts, not the discussion leading up to it. It is very common for members to raise concerns, criticize the motion, and worry about implications. But ultimately they need to decide how to vote, and that is a decision they need to stand by.

Metrolinx has already spent serious money, based on these agreements and Council motions. Paul Johnson, director of the City's LRT Office, reported that Metrolinx has spent or committed $60-70 million.

George Rust-d'Eye also reminded Council of its legal responsibility to make decisions, and that Council has decided to work with Metrolinx to build LRT (entirely financed by the Province!). He warns that Council would be opening itself up to legal action by the Province if it goes back on its word:

The Council, and its predecessor Councils, have been elected to make decisions with respect to major municipal issues, and this Council has done so with respect to undertaking the development of the LRT to date, and, at least in the circumstances of the proposed motions, it would not be appropriate to suspend or cancel consideration and planning of the project without thorough consideration and legal advice with respect to the implications of doing so.

So it is now crystal clear that Council has already decided to build the LRT as proposed by Metrolinx and is obligated to continue to work in good faith with Metrolinx to accomplish this goal. This is no longer up for debate.

Two More Votes

However, Council will still need to vote on two further issues to move the LRT project forward: the updated Environmental Assessment (EA) and the Master Agreement (MA). As the Spectator reported:

[City Manager Chris Murray] emphasized council has already committed "in good faith" to moving LRT ahead with prior votes, including an Aug. 14, 2015 decision to create an LRT implementation office to work on the updated project that calls for a line from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle. The city also signed a binding real estate protocol this fall.

But he added if council encounters a problem with the project or operating agreement that is "so significant that … we simply could not solve it, then I think that is where council would have to decide whether to keep going or not."

In other words, the objections that have been raised so far - "we don't need it", "let's spend the money on X instead", "it should be on Main street instead of King Street", "we shouldn't spend all this money downtown", "the project might go over budget", "some business owners are opposed", "the silent majority is against it", "construction will be disruptive" - are not acceptable.

I imagine some anti-LRT Councillors might try to delay or kill these motions, but they are now on notice. Everyone knows that they were publicly opposed to LRT before even seeing the EA and MA. It will be extremely difficult for them to meet the standard of "good faith criticism" now they've already revealed their hand.

The general public, and especially Metrolinx and the Province, will be watching very carefully how Council deals with these motions.

If there is any evidence of bad-faith dealing - i.e. criticisms aimed at stalling or killing the LRT project rather than improving it - Rust-d'Eye has made it clear that Council would be opening itself up to legal action by Metrolinx and the Province.

They might very well attempt to claim back at least the tens of millions of dollars that the Province has already committed to implementing Hamilton's LRT - money it has spent specifically because Hamilton asked them to!

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 27, 2016 at 13:00:30

There is precedent for this. When Rob Ford induced Toronto City Council to violate its written agreement with the province to kill Transit City, the penalty charges came to $65 million. Of course, for Rob Ford, ideology was more important that such mundane things as money or building a transportation system that people could use.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-10-27 13:00:52

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2016 at 16:05:06

If LRT is such a done deal why is every other article on RTH about LRT? Why not just let it happen if it's inevitable? This YesLRT echo chamber serves no useful purpose. Let's talk about bike lanes or something that *isn't* inevitable and in actual danger of not being implemented to the highest degree. Advocating for a project that I'm told *will* happen is pointless. Declare victory and move on.

Comment edited by JimC on 2016-10-27 16:05:37

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By itsjustme (registered) | Posted November 02, 2016 at 23:29:50 in reply to Comment 120375

I Have to agree... I'm new here, heard this was a great site to discuss the concerns and future of Hamilton, but apparently not the case.....

I have mixed feeling on LRT, but believe it will go through pretty much as planned. Time to move on and fix some of the real issues facing this city.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 27, 2016 at 16:20:53 in reply to Comment 120375

The fact that Council had to consult two lawyers to tell them the obvious (and that even then one anti-LRT councillor rejected their expert opinion) shows that there are some Councillors who are desperate to find to find a way to undo their decisions.

This is a political process, and people need to be aware of the issues and facts. This article is just pointing out that the motions Council supported mean they have already agreed to work with the Metrolinx in good faith to build LRT. But that doesn't mean it will necessarily happen!

For example, it is not out of the realm of possibility that some Councillors might be willing to risk a lawsuit, or paying back tens of millions of dollars, just to avoid the difficulties of LRT construction.

The reason that we still have an LRT project, and got the $1 billion in funding, is due in no small part to the "YesLRT echo chamber" producing echoes in the provincial government and among the residents of Hamilton. Ted McMeekin said as much at the funding announcement, and the fact that 90% of the emails and telephone calls to the Mayor support LRT obviously makes a difference.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-10-27 16:24:30

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted October 27, 2016 at 16:15:09

This soap opera/saga has a very familiar feel to it for someone who lives in Ottawa and remembers the North-South LRT project debacle. The mostly right wing and technocratic opposition to Ottawa's North-South LRT Line (the Transitway only senior city staff), which had been approved in 2005 and had a signed contract and operating agreement with a coalition of 20 companies including, Siemens as the main contractor and vehicle supplier, used the federal (Conservative) government to delay its portion of the line's funding until after the 2006 municipal election. Some believe that mayorial candidate and anti LRT project man Larry O'Brien was the letter writer that first asked the feds to do this. Then as the new Mayor, Larry O'Brien then had another vote on the plan and the new council voted to cancel the plan. Unfortunately, "we" as a city, had a signed contract. The new Mayor a high tech businessman swore up and down nothing will happen and we will get through all this, just fine. The City of Ottawa was sued by Siemens because work had already started and they wanted to recoup costs and yes, we had a signed contract with them. Well Ottawa lost twice, the first loss was the actual case, which we had to pay $42 Million in damages. Secondly, after spending tens of millions dollars for design studies and EA's and pre construction work, the reputation of the city was wiped out. No one wants to do business with someone who just decides to ignore and cancel a multi-million dollar contract for political reasons. For this reason I know companies and consultants who "pad" any contract when dealing with the city so that if their work is cancelled they get some money out of the work.

These short sighted municipal politicians are dangerous because they now want to cancel a project because there long term opposition to it now defines them, any change to their position will end their political careers. They now have no reason to fear totally destroying the project by any means and your city's reputation along with it. Be warned, after this Committee meeting they (anti LRT councilors) were hurt by the support that the public gave the LRT program, wounded, they are even more dangerous!

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 27, 2016 at 16:35:10

First of all, I am anti-LRT for many reasons & have stated so for several years!

However, Nicholas Kevlahan's conclusions today make a great deal of sense. It appears for Hamilton to get out of this elephant in the room deal (my opinion), a very compelling disadvantage to the City reason not previously exposed needs to occur during EA or MA process!

No one's fault except the Mayor & Councillor's for not getting legal opinions from our highly paid City staff to ensure City flexibility until all positive/negative aspects are determined!

Unfortunately they, the politicians, think they know it all.

Should not include them all as some like the Mayor were on a mission to force this LRT as they are totally convinced of it's pluses. Of course a few Councillor's where this $1B so called gift runs through their Wards are in heaven & will soak the so called gift for many Elections.

Nothing wrong with conviction, but being a Leader of thousands, leave an exit if as often happens in political decisions, the project goes South? Mayor Fred failed us?

Have pro-LRT supporters won, yes I believe so & only a critical adverse development could change the course of the Titanic! I really hope the pro's are right & this project turns out to be the savior of downtown Hamilton that they all believe it will be.

The 90% of Hamilton tax payers who will never ride this shiny new toy of Mayor Fred as they live no where near it will never know?

Comment edited by bobby2 on 2016-10-27 16:35:45

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted October 28, 2016 at 19:21:19 in reply to Comment 120379

I live nowhere near it (Ward 8 heartland), but my wife will use it 10 times a week.

We're a 1 car family, and she works at McMaster. She'll take the bus down to Jackson Square, and LRT in to Mac. Same thing coming home.

We're all for it. Just because you don't use it doesn't mean it's not used by anyone who does not live directly along the line.

Genuine question: How often do you go downtown to shop, walk, eat out, etc?

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-10-28 19:21:56

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 28, 2016 at 07:51:45 in reply to Comment 120379

who will never ride

Although I do go up the Mountain from time to time, for the last forty years I cannot recall ever defecating while in the upper city.

Therefore I believe that all sewer systems in that part of Hamilton should be shut down. I don't use them and do not want to pay for them!

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted October 28, 2016 at 01:17:52 in reply to Comment 120379

It's got nothing to do with "getting legal opinions" throughout the process of voting, in my opinion. Councillors are intelligent people -- they should know what they're voting on. Right?

If they didn't know, then they didn't pay attention, or they were being willfully stupid thinking that their support didn't really matter. And that's just sad. Because they were voted in as ward representatives TO PAY ATTENTION and make informed decisions at the time they are required.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2016-10-28 01:19:07

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 31, 2016 at 16:15:53

Well, all the pro-LRT people should look at Toronto LRT in todays Star and who pays Operational & Maintenance cost liabilities, maybe up to $80M annually. Still want to trust Metrolinx & Liberal Gov't with negotiations after Hamilton is totally committed!

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By itsjustme (registered) | Posted November 02, 2016 at 23:57:56 in reply to Comment 120391

Yeah this is one of the things really bothering me with this deal.... Sign now, we'll work out the details later. That NEVER goes well with government.... any level... any party.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 01, 2016 at 09:33:01 in reply to Comment 120391

Context: TheStar article

It is a proposed agreement that both Toronto and Ontario are mutually agreeing on, with trust of each other,

Hamilton has more economic uplift potential along our corridor, so the rising property taxes (of which I am affected, but still willing to pony up) may nullify the need for further raises in our case. The ecdev benefit margin is much bigger. It is also Hamilton's first true rapid transit corridor (bus lanes and shared-streetcar lanes nonwithstanding). As an up-and-coming personal user of the LRT.

Even so, I'm willing to accept 3% along the TOD regions and surrounding spine residences -- as long as solutions come upmfor affordable/inclusive housing and low-income options are integrated too, in the impending densification that is primed to occur with the LRT.

The article, can be read multiple ways of mild concern versus alarm/panic concern --

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted November 01, 2016 at 12:42:52 in reply to Comment 120392

The 3% Property tax increase Toronto may experience is based on a population more than 5 times that of Hamilton. I suspect our property tax increase would be much higher as Operational & Maintenance costs split amongst far fewer property owners & in the end only serve a very small portion of Hamilton! Queenston Circle as an end/start, give me a break, destination to nowhere! If it at least went to Eastgate Mall, it would have a destination other than temporary Hamilton residents going to McMaster for 4 years with virtually a free annual transit pass. Sorry, LRT is no free $1B gift, it will have huge local costs attached to it!

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By blatchdk (registered) | Posted November 01, 2016 at 14:03:30 in reply to Comment 120394

The population density may be larger in Toronto, but so is the whole LRT line. You're comparing a $4 billion LRT to a $1 billion LRT and suggesting the operating costs will be the same. Also note, this is only the operating and daily maintenance, Metrolinx still covers larger scale maintenance.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted November 02, 2016 at 09:10:38

The fact that heavy maintenance on their LRT lines (LRV's and the line itself) are being paid for by Metrolinx is pretty sweet deal for the TTC. Heavy maintenance costs like "bogie" or "truck" replacement and upgrades are really expensive and time consuming. Modern LRV's make the light operational maintenance, usually referred to as "PM" as in preventative maintenance, very, very easy and cheap. Just ask the TTC how expensive and complicated just the daily PM is on the existing CLRV and ALRV's in comparison to their new streetcar/LRV's. By law, the transit operator (the TTC) would have to be paying most of the daily maintenance costs anyway. What amazes me is that most of the anti LRT people in Hamilton don't realize that these every day costs, such as PM's are minor, in terms of difficulty and time compared to the heavy maintenance that must be done at regular intervals for each LRV. What is really interesting is that, once you have an experienced crew, rail vehicle maintenance becomes much cheaper and easier than the maintenance of system's bus fleet. Especially, if you have articulated buses. Articulated buses for example, can be depending on the individual transit operator, the type of service utilization and the particular bus model, a real maintenance nightmare! They are by their nature finicky vehicles whose varied and specialized designs can make them notoriously difficult and time consuming (expensive)to conduct just general maintenance work on.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted November 03, 2016 at 16:35:16

Everybody keep in mind, the Toronto agreement will have local costs and most likely will cause a small increase in property taxes for the City of Toronto residents however, they are getting over $7 Billion in provincial spending for desperately needed rapid transit lines that will move a hell of a lot of people. This is on top of another $8 Billion in currently funded transit projects in just the City of Toronto alone. Part of that $7 Billion agreement will fund not only a significant portion of the GO Regional Express Rail System Track mileage located inside the City of Toronto but provide the provincial portion of the Smart Track Rapid Transit Surface Subway Line through Toronto and build more LRT line extensions. The entire cost of the GO RER system which is slated somewhere around $13.5 Billion, will help everyone in the Greater Golden Horseshoe and its nearly 10 million residents (The official name of GO Transit's Operating Region). Investing in this type of infrastructure by applying local property taxes to them, will have big payoffs in the long run. If you want proof of how much development even a simple LRT line can spur you only have to look at Kitchener-Waterloo and its Ion Line for the answer. Yes, an LRT line by itself can't spur tremendous growth but it's slowly becoming a major component in that area's growth, especially in downtown Kitchener and Uptown Waterloo.


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