Premier Kathleen Wynne has committed to up to $1 billion for the capital costs of light rail transit in Hamilton — likely the last of several such announcements in Ontario to come from a $16-billion pot of transit money.
The LRT line will begin at McMaster University in the west to the Queenston traffic circle in the east, plus include a spur line that will connect to the new GO station at James Street North, with plans to ultimately connect it to the waterfront.
'This is the biggest deal that Hamilton has seen in the last 100 years.' - Mayor Fred Eisenberger
The announcement also included long-awaited money for the Centennial GO station in the city's east end, the second new GO station project in Hamilton in this term of government.
Tuesday's news is likely the last in a series of LRT announcements the Wynne government has made over the past year in Ontario. Last month, the province committed $1.6 billion for a line in Brampton and Mississauga. It is also making hefty contributions to lines in Waterloo and York, as well as putting billions into electrifying GO service. That uses up a $16-billion pot the province has pledged to improve transit in the GTHA.
Wynne made the announcement at McMaster University on Tuesday morning after months of speculation that Hamilton's time was coming. The timeline is for procurement for Hamilton LRT is 2017. Construction will start in 2019.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger called the investment the biggest game changer Hamilton has seen in recent history.
"This is the biggest deal that Hamilton has seen in the last 100 years," he said. "In terms of investment and the ability to transform our city not only from a people moving perspective but an economic uplift perspective, it is huge."
Construction on the GO service will begin next year and wrap up in 2019, said Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.
As for why Hamilton's announcement didn't come sooner, Del Duca said the province has been in talks with the city about tying the line to the GO station. The city also asked for $300 million to improve its existing transit system, and the government took time to consider that, he said.
The original plan for Hamilton LRT, as outlined in the city's 2013 Rapid Ready report, was a 13.5-kilometre line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Instead, it will be from McMaster to the former City Motor Hotel site at the Queenston Road traffic circle. But the province says it will extend to Eastgate "eventually."
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LRT has been a much-anticipated event in Hamilton for years. The city already used a Metrolinx grant to do 30 per cent of the design for the system. For at least two years, the province has promised capital dollars for "rapid transit" but refused to say whether they meant light rail or bus rapid transit.
Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre MPP and leader of the Ontario NDP, referenced the delay on Tuesday.
"The Liberals have finally figured out how to spell L-R-T when it comes to the city of Hamilton," she told CBC Hamilton.
"The announcement seems to be about two kilometres short and 10 years late," she said.
The investment is a positive sign, Horwath said, but she has "healthy skepticism until shovels are in the ground."
Wynne made the announcement at University Hall with Del Duca and Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.
Here are some other highlights of Tuesday's news:
- The initial route was shortened to allow for a "spur line" — in other words, a line going up James North to the new GO station — to connect LRT to GO transit.
- The details about that line, including how many lanes of James North it will use, will be part of an upcoming detailed design.
- Accepting the money will not necessarily require another vote from city council. But if it does, Del Duca said, "today's reaction shows that it will be favourable."
- City council will establish a subcommittee, and an office with staff that work exclusively on the LRT file. Coun. Sam Merulla is bringing a motion forward to establish both on Wednesday.
- The $1 billion includes the cost of buying property along the LRT line, installing the stations, the storage facility and the cost of the train, said Bruce McCuaig, head of Metrolinx. The train and the system will belong to the province, but the city will operate it.
- This announcement did not include city council's $300-million request for upgrades to the current HSR system, including $200 million for a new maintenance facility on the Mountain.
- The plan will include an enhanced pedestrian walkway from the line on King Street to the Hunter GO station.
- As crews install the line, McCuaig said, any additions to city infrastructure, such as installing new pipes and watermains, would be the city's responsibility.
- The city and province will hammer out a master agreement, which will include details such as route, design, operating revenue.