LRT makes it through another milestone Hamilton City Council vote

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Published June 23, 2021 at 10:47 am

It’s official: Hamilton City Council has directed staff to prepare a memorandum of understanding between the parties involved in the city’s LRT project.

At Wednesday’s (June 23) meeting, councillors voted nine to six in favour of a motion contained in a committee report that directs City staff “to meet with Metrolinx, the Ministry of Transportation and other governmental entities, as required, to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the Hamilton Light Rail Transit project.”

The vote took place following a short debate on Council process and after several councillors singled out their opposition to the motion, which was originally put forth by Mayor Fred Eisenberger at a General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting last week.

Among the councillors who voiced their opposition to the project was Ward 9 councillor Brad Clark who added that should the project get back on track, he will do what he can to make sure it becomes a reality.

“Our role as councillors is to make that project a success,” he said in his remarks, adding that he hopes that the project does not continue to create division among council once it gets underway.

The expectation is that the MOU will very closely resemble, with several tweaks, a previous version signed between the City and Metrolinx on the project previous to its abrupt cancellation by the province in December 2019.

At the time, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney, cited concerns of massive cost overruns as the reason for the cancellation. Up to then, an estimated $184 million had been spent in preparation for Hamilton’s LRT.

In the wake of the surprise decision, the Hamilton Transportation Task Force was convened to report back on the future of transit in Hamilton. The subsequent report supported an LRT and earlier this year, the Federal and Provincial governments stepped up with a combined $3.4 billion for the LRT’s construction.

Following Wednesday’s vote, staff will begin the process of preparing the MOU and are expected to bring the agreement back to Council within weeks for a vote.

Once signed, it means the City will accept a federal and provincial government combined offer of $3.4 billion to build the 14-kilometre line from Eastgate Square to McMaster University and will assume the day-to-day operational costs of running the system.

A recent report from City staff pegged net costs for operating and maintaining the system between $6.4 million and $16.5 million per year — a fee that Hamilton’s taxpayers will be on the hook for.

The report looked at two key variables — ridership growth and how many crosstown bus routes would be retired because they will be replaced by the LRT — and offered two scenarios to offset costs for councillors to consider.

Councillors ultimately voted to support the first scenario which will remove 29 buses from the B-Line Express route and cut the operating hours of the King and Delaware bus routes by one third.

Under this scenario, if ridership grows by eight per cent, the system would cost an estimated $6.4 million to run annually but without that growth, it would cost $10.4 million.

— with a file from Nathan Sager

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