A light-rail line along Hurontario Street was the legacy project former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion tried to deliver before she retired, and the one her successor, Bonnie Crombie, adopted as a key campaign pledge. But the dream of building a rapid transit line down one of Mississauga's busiest corridors was all based on a "hope" that the provincial government would bankroll the $1.6-billion capital project.
Without a 100-per-cent funding commitment from the province, the project may not go ahead at all – a situation that has some observers shaking their heads.
"I think most people assumed … it would be built by either by 2019, 2020, definitely, and the city would be budgeting for that right now," said Matthew Mark, a 24-year-old financial analyst who lives in Mississauga and has eagerly awaited the construction of the line. He was shocked to learn the city had not set aside a single dollar for the project in its draft capital budget, which was tabled this week, because he always assumed it would be jointly funded by the city and province.
But Ms. Crombie said in all discussions with provincial transportation agency Metrolinx, the city has been clear that it would require full provincial funding. The fact that Metrolinx offered full funding to Toronto for two comparable projects – the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the now-cancelled Scarborough LRT – set a precedent, she said. However, most major transit projects follow the model that the city pays one-third of the cost and senior levels of government cover the rest.
"We've always operated on the hope that we would be fully funded," Ms. Crombie said. "We've always been upfront with [Metrolinx] that we could not do this on the back of the property taxpayer."
While the Hurontario LRT has been identified by Metrolinx as a priority project under its Big Move strategy, things are still at a planning stage, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Transportation said. "At this time, all sources of funding are being explored, and a range of shared funding models are possible," the spokesperson said.
When asked whether the Mississauga could cover one-third of the cost of building the LRT line, city manager Janice Baker said, "I don't think so."
"If they [Metrolinx] expect us to put in a significant contribution then we'd certainly have to go back to council," she said.
Last year, Ms. Crombie campaigned for mayor on a commitment to expand the city's transit network, which included the Hurontario LRT line as well as a long-term goal to build several more kilometres of bus and light rail lines (which would likely cost a few billion dollars).
City Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who was elected to council in October but once lost her seat to Ms. Crombie, suggested the mayor didn't believe elections are the time for serious policy discussions.
"They apparently are the time for aspiring politicians to paint rosy pictures for the voters on highly technical subjects they know nothing about," she said.
She described the city's aspirations for an LRT line as akin to those of "a young couple who want to buy a million-dollar house with no down payment." She believes that without full financial backing from the province, the LRT project will die, because Mississauga has other pressing infrastructure projects to fund.
Ms. McCallion, meanwhile, says if the province doesn't fully fund the LRT line, one she fought hard for during her last few years as mayor, council should look east for inspiration from the Quebec government, which recently handed over ownership of its transit infrastructure to Caisse de dépôt, the province's pension fund manager.