The LRT: Is Brampton Hurting or Helping Mississauga?

Uh oh.

It looks like Metrolinx's controversial Hurontario corridor light-rail transit (better known as the LRT) plan might be quashed by Brampton, our northern neighbour and the other city set to receive the much-discussed train.

As far as the LRT goes, Mississauga is for it. Or the city's powers that be are for it, rather. Back in April, Mayor Crombie said she was "pleased" by the province's decision to fund the 23-kilometer, $1.6 billion transportation project.

The proposed Hurontario-Main LRT, though derided by some residents as a potential financial boondoggle and construction nightmare, has, until now, seemed like an inevitability. Although the train is controversial -- and definitely one of the city's most extensive and expensive infrastructure projects to date -- it comes with some benefits. It's not designed to cause a significant decrease in traffic, but rather move more people through the busy corridor, keeping congestion from worsening as Brampton and Mississauga grow. Its creation also demonstrates Mississauga's (and Ontario's) awareness of the need for more and better public transportation options. While many people would prefer an east-west train, there's no denying that the chosen north-south corridor is busy and worth considering.

In a city that's constantly growing, the LRT, though imperfect, is a start. It's an acknowledgment of the urban challenges we face and will continue to face.

But it looks like it might be in danger.

According to a recent story in The Globe and Mail, Brampton seems poised to reject the plan.

According to the article, "The Ontario government is keen to build transit infrastructure and promises to spend billions doing so around the Toronto and Hamilton areas. But it has made clear that if Brampton refuses the route as proposed - running up Main Street, from Steeles Avenue to the GO station near Queen Street - it will withdraw its funding offer."

Critics are concerned about the same things a lot of Mississauga residents are worried about -- namely construction, financial and aesthetic issues -- but Brampton's skeptical city council is largely concerned about the LRT's impact on the city's downtown core.

"We all support the LRT and feel that it does bring value to Peel, however the final leg connecting it to the downtown Brampton GO Station is the part that I and other councillors object to," says Jeff Bowman, Brampton's Ward 3 and 4 City Councillor. "Fellow councillor Michael Palleschi moved a deferral so that we could bring in a facilitator to assist council in exploring areas of common support and allow us to try and reach more of a consensus on the route of the LRT which best serves Brampton now and into the future. We are currently working together to attain more detailed information, and hopefully move towards a more unified decision."

While it seems like Mayor Linda Jeffrey is in the minority with her support for the project -- and may be soundly defeated by a defiant council intent on preserving the city's downtown core -- there are other influential Bramptonites on board [with] the train.

Herman Custodio, the owner Custodio's Studio, a Main Street business located in the city's downtown area, supports the project and is willing to fight for it.

"Light rail benefits both the economy and the environment," Custodio says. "It reduces greenhouse gas emissions by replacing diesel buses and cars. The LRT lines increase the demand for land near the line and foster development because of the connections between homes, workplaces, shops and recreational centres."

In the aforementioned Globe article, there's mention of the schism between old and young Brampton. Perhaps older generations are clinging to the city's more historical aesthetic and youthful residents are supporting big changes to the city's look and functionality. According to the article, supporters of the train argue that rejecting it outright could send a message that Brampton's downtown core isn't worth investing in. Those who don't support the LRT argue that there are alternatives, with some people proposing a tunnel that would cost $380 million and would be, at this juncture, unfunded. On the old vs. new split, Custodio agrees that the LRT is good for younger residents.

"Since Brampton has the youngest population in the GTA and has one of the highest growth rates in Canada, the LRT would dramatically scale up the city's public transportation capacity and connectivity to other existing transit routes in the city."

As for other reasons why Brampton is prepared to reject a train that Mississauga (at least Mississauga City Council) wants, Custodio says there might be some inter-city hard feelings at play.

"Unfortunately, Brampton's previous leadership was not at the table advocating for our best interests. The Council is under the misconception that this is a Mississauga plan."

In terms of Brampton's concerns, the crux of the issue seems to be that people are afraid the construction will ruin or otherwise compromise the look of the downtown core and heritage districts. While concerns about visual disruptions are valid, Custodio says the project needs more explanation and promotion.

"Many residents, including councillors, fear the proposed surface route will destroy the heritage character along the LRT's path into Brampton's historic downtown. By holding an updated informal public session on the route, I believe a lot of these unanswered questions and concerns would be clarified."

It's important to note that, like Councillor Bowman said, city council isn't interested in rejecting the train outright (even though the city is essentially holding the project hostage).

"The proposed LRT has divided the city and its council, with some in favor of an LRT that would run north from Mississauga into our downtown core and others saying it'll ruin the area's heritage district.

Some staff has recommended keeping the proposed Main Street route, but if council rejects it, the project scope and related investment will be revised to reflect only the link from Port Credit GO to the Brampton Gateway Terminal at Steeles. I do feel that Brampton should have the LRT and I don't want it to end at the Gateway Transit Terminal. If the councillors vote "no," the need for a traffic solution still exists, including the need to connect Brampton Go to other areas. By voting yes, there is a transit solution in place an a future opportunity for LRT to expand exists as well."

With Brampton pushing for a new route, the future of the entire project remains in the balance. While a lot of Mississauga residents fear that a north-south line won't help them with their commutes and will hurt local businesses during the lengthy and expensive construction process, the fact that remains that, at this juncture, city council is for it. It's a start -- a possible precursor to an east-west line. Holding the project hostage over aesthetic woes seems weak. As both cities grow, transportation will have to evolve and fighting the process in favor of keeping four-lane roads intact seems shortsighted.

So, what do you think about Brampton's hardline approach? Is it helping or hurting us?

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