Hamilton light rail transit (LRT) would see the province pay for millions in new infrastructure along the route. But city councillors are torn over whether that should even be a factor when they vote on LRT.

'Right now, when people are asked about LRT, we're asking them whether we should spend $1 billion on a train.' - Coun. Sam Merulla

The $1 billion project would see new sidewalks, roads and light standards along Main and King Street. It would also see about 10 kilometres of underground infrastructure replaced.

Metrolinx would also replace the 62-year-old Longwood Road bridge that spans Highway 403, among other projects. Overall, Metrolinx officials say, 80 per cent of the project money, minus administrative costs, would go to infrastructure.

The city has a $3 billion infrastructure deficit that weighs on the budget each year, said Sam Merulla, a Ward 4 councillor who wants LRT.

LRT is as much about infrastructure as transit, he said. And people should start looking at it that way.

"Right now, when people are asked about LRT, we're asking them whether we should spend $1 billion on a train," the east end councillor said. "We should be asking whether we want the province to spend $1 billion on our infrastructure deficit."

'I'm not aware of any municipality in the country building transit so they can get infrastructure.' - Coun. Chad Collins

Merulla is pushing the infrastructure angle leading up to April 19, when councillors will vote whether to approve an environmental project report. That report is an update to a 2011 environmental assessment.

There have been major design changes since then. In the original design, for example, LRT ran from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Now it will stop at the Queenston traffic circle.

Sam Merulla

Coun. Sam Merulla has said turning down hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure upgrades would be a betrayal to taxpayers. Others say that's a reach. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Council has voted numerous times on LRT. But now, as the project looms closer, some are skeptical or opposed to it.

That includes Chad Collins, who represents Ward 5 in the Red Hill area. Merulla's argument doesn't persuade him.

Not much of that infrastructure along the route is due to be replaced, he said.

"We're ripping up roads that have already been repaired in the last number of years," he said. "We're ripping up good sidewalks."

"I'm not aware of any municipality in the country building transit so they can get infrastructure."

The infrastructure argument, Collins said, has been "creatively developed to try to garner more support" for a project a lot of people don't want.

Some of the infrastructure projects Metrolinx will do as a part of LRT

  • Sidewalks, roads and light standards would be replaced along the corridor as part of this project, paid for by Metrolinx. There are about 44 lane kilometres of roadway within the LRT corridor.
  • About 10 kilometres of underground infrastructure (sewer/water) would be renewed.
  • Metrolinx would replace the 62-year-old Longwood Road bridge (over Highway 403).
  • The LRT project requires an operations, maintenance and storage facility at the site of Frid Street and Chatham Street. Metrolinx would build the Frid Street extension (from Longwood Road to Chatham Street), which the city has planned since 2006 through the Kirkendall traffic management plan. The city did an environmental assessment for it in 2008 but didn't have money to proceed.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC