Construction on Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) system is expected to exacerbate a problem with rats, and city health officials and Metrolinx have already met to talk about it.

The concern about the project's impacts come on top of a growing rat problem in the city. In August alone, there were almost 100 complaints.

Construction projects disrupt rat nests and send them scurrying to yards and basements, public health officials say. 

'There's a likelihood rats are going to get disturbed. We want to get ahead of it.' - Susan Harding-Cruz, Hamilton Public Health

That's why they predict LRT construction, which will run 14 kilometres from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, will rile up the rats.

The construction will happen alternately down King and Main streets from 2019 to 2024.

"It's expected that if they're going to be doing construction, it'll be over a large area," said Susan Harding-Cruz, manager of vector born diseases. 

"There's a likelihood rats are going to get disturbed. We want to get ahead of it."

side walk construction

Metrolinx has fielded rat complaints around the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction, says spokesperson Jamie Robinson. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

Construction in general stirs up rats, especially on projects that involve digging underground to replace water, sewer and utility lines, which LRT will do.

In 2015, an Ottawa exterminator said he got as many as a dozen rat calls a day, in part because of LRT construction. Ottawa's rat problem, Rob Caron said, increased about 25 per cent.

In Montreal this year, exterminators said construction on water and sewer lines were disrupting rat nests. In one case, a rat ate through a backwater valve, came up through a toilet and chewed through a bedroom door. Rats caused similar havoc in 2014, when TTC crews did construction on Union Station in Toronto.

Rat complaints

Rat complaints have increased month over month this year. (City of Hamilton)

Metrolinx spokesperson Jamie Robinson said his agency has received rat complaints related to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project too. It's inevitable.

"Any active construction site, whether it's a transit or a condo project, disrupts the stable nesting ground," Robinson said. "As the habitat changes, they look for somewhere else to go."

The agency's Toronto contractors are baiting traps around the construction site. Otherwise, Robinson said, there's little they can do.

Hamilton LRT

Hamilton LRT will run from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. (Metrolinx)

The city of Hamilton, meanwhile, is educating people on how to discourage rats. That includes getting rid of garbage, controlling weeds and bushes and not leaving food outside. 

The city is also developing a pest bylaw that will mandate rat control be part of future construction contracts, Harding-Cruz said. Whoever build's Hamilton's LRT system will have to follow that. 

Rat complaints in general have increased since 2015, said Harding-Cruz, and month over month this year.

The city has fielded more than 300 complaints as of Sept. 11 of this year, Harding-Cruz said in a report to city councillors this week. There were nearly 100 in August, compared to 40 in August last year.

Still, Ottawa is higher. In 2016 in Hamilton, the report says, there were 0.45 rat complaints per 1,000 people. In Ottawa, there were 1.46.