Ontario and Metrolinx are killing the James Street North LRT spur line and replacing it with a 16-kilometre bus rapid transit (BRT) line connecting the waterfront with the airport.

'We're going to work with a billion dollars.' - Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, Metrolinx chief capital officer John Jensen and Mayor Fred Eisenberger made the announcement Thursday at Hamilton GO Centre on Hunter Street.

The BRT line route presented at the announcement appears to follow James Street, climb the escarpment via the West 5th access, and follow Fennel Avenue back to Upper James Street on its way from Hamilton's waterfront to the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. That route allows for connections with Mohawk College, St. Joseph's Healthcare, and the West Harbour GO station.

The BRT system could be a mixture of dedicated lanes and buses sharing traffic with other vehicles, Del Duca said. But it's still being designed.

A line

The proposed bus rapid transit line will likely be a mixture of dedicated lanes and shared traffic with other vehicles, but Metrolinx is still designing it. (Ministry of Transportation Ontario)

The line replaces a former plan to run an LRT spur line along James St. North, for two kilometres from the waterfront to King Street East, where it would connect with the B line LRT from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle.

At least part of the A line will be funded within the $1 billion already allocated for LRT, Del Duca said, although it's not certain that all of it will.

"I would expect some of the money in that $1 billion will go into the delivery for the BRT."

Eisenberger hopes it doesn't cost the city anything, since the LRT spur line was likely more expensive than BRT will be.

"We're going to work with a billion dollars," he said. "I don't know what that billion dollars will get us … but I'm hopeful that we can do all that within a billion."

Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation came up with this new plan "based on analysis and feedback received through public consultations in the fall," the province said.

There was other news too. The province is issuing the request for qualifications (RFQ) Thursday for someone to design, build and operate Hamilton's LRT system, Del Duca said. 

Del Duca also said Ontario will double Hamilton's provincial gas tax apportionment, most of which also goes to transit.

In 2015, for example, the city got $10.7 million from the provincial gas tax. Of that, $10,440,516 went to HSR, including $9,227,102 toward operating it and $1,213,414 for capital. (The city also gets federal gas tax, although it puts most of that toward road repairs.)

But the route change ruled the announcement. Eisenberger said the city was consulted on the route change, and that he's in favour of it.

A line plan

Standing with the A line plan are, from left, Coun. Jason Farr of Ward 2, Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3, Minister Steven Del Duca, Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Coun. Aidan Johnson of Ward 1 and John Jensen of Metrolinx. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Vijay Bathija, airport president and CEO, said in an email that he's pleased with the announcement. More than 1,100 people work in and around the airport, he said. And the new line will connect the airport to the rest of the GTHA.

Coun. Donna Skelly of Ward 7, meanwhile, is an LRT skeptic. She doesn't know what to think about the announcement until she knows more details.

She's worried what it will mean to Hamilton's Mountain accesses, and the lack of public input.

And if it means dedicated bus lanes on Upper James, she said, "I don't think that's a good idea. I really don't. What will that do to traffic flow?"

Thursday's announcement takes the city a step closer to its dream of a full BLAST network — a plan that would see rapid transit spread throughout the whole city, including Ancaster, Waterdown and Stoney Creek.

In October, councillors agreed through a motion by Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 to pursue a mix of bus rapid transit (BRT) and light rail transit (LRT) for the Upper James corridor to happen at the same time as the B line.

The new A line plan is "truly is a huge leap forward toward completing the entire BLAST system," he said. And for Mountain councillors, "I just want to tell them, 'you're welcome.'"

CBC Hamilton tweeted live from the event. On mobile? Read the live blog here.

Del Duca also made a transit announcement in Brantford on Thursday morning.

He said Brantford will get more than $1.2 million through the 2016-17 gas tax program, as well as $1.5 million in 2019-20, $1.8 million in 2020-21 and $2.4 million in 2021-22.

The city can use that money for infrastructure upgrades, more buses, more bus routes, longer bus service and better accessibility.

Del Duca

Transportation Minister Steve Del Duca, left, announces bus rapid transit for the Mountain with Mayor Fred Eisenberger. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC