Nearly four months after the provincial government nixed plans to build a light rail line in Hamilton, its own task force has included a version of the project as one of its top recommendations for upgrading the city’s transportation.
The task force was assembled amid fierce criticism in Hamilton about the cancellation of the LRT. Its mandate was to analyze the most effective use of the $1-billion originally pledged to build light rail.
In a report, which was submitted weeks ago to the provincial transportation minister and released late Thursday afternoon, the task force says either LRT or bus rapid transit (BRT) – without rails, this is effectively buses in dedicated lanes – would be the top choices. It recommends further analysis of both options to see which one would best serve the city of Hamilton.
Although the task force remained agnostic, LRT supporters were confident their preferred option would come out on top
“I say it’s a victory for the city,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said.
“My view was that at some point the province realized they made a mistake and decided to find a path out that would give them some face-saving opportunity and get us back to some semblance of what the right choice for Hamilton is, which I think is LRT.”
Only if neither LRT nor BRT prove feasible should the province look at spending the money instead on expanding the GO commuter rail service for Hamilton residents, the task force recommended.
However, the task force appears to have accepted the province’s argument that LRT had become too expensive, saying that a truncated version of the project might be necessary if other funding cannot be found.
This is a contentious point. The $1-billion figure is drawn from a 2014 estimate and $3.66-billion was quietly budgeted for the project by the governing Liberals in 2018, before their election defeat.
In a statement Thursday, a spokeswoman for provincial transportation minister Caroline Mulroney said the LRT project would have cost ”billions more” than the Liberals had initially promised, making it unaffordable.
“Our government is open to reviewing projects, including an LRT, that can be supported either fully or partially with our $1-billion capital funding commitment for transportation projects in Hamilton,” Christina Salituro said in an e-mail.
Ryan McGreal, with the civic activist group Raise the Hammer, said he was expecting that LRT would come out as the preferred option.
He noted that bus rapid transit costs more to run than LRT, expenses which would have to be borne by the city, and is less effective at attracting riders and generating development. As well, an LRT would require more construction hours, which could be economically important as the region tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As far as I’m concerned, this [report] is a pretty strong endorsement that it was the right decision to build LRT in the first place,” Mr. McGreal said.
“I’ll do a victory dance when I’ve paid my ticket and I’ve boarded the LRT and the door is closed and it’s pulled out of the station. But in the interim, I certainly feel a kind of a guarded optimism, which maybe I wasn’t feeling quite as much before this.”
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