Catherine McKenna says LRT is the only 'shovel ready' transit project in Hamilton

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna hasn't made any promises about whether light-rail transit will be built in Hamilton but offered a glimmer of hope for LRT advocates, noting that LRT is the only 'shovel ready" proposal.

'I think, more than ever, we recognize that we need to be getting projects that are ready to go,' McKenna said

Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna told CBC News she thinks the LRT is the only project that is 'shovel ready' and noted its support among the public. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna said public transit investments will be key to getting cities out of the COVID-19 economic slump and in Hamilton, the only "shovel ready" transit proposal for that is LRT.

"I think it's the only project that is shovel ready and I know there's a lot of local support I've heard about and we're always looking to fund good public transit projects," she told CBC News at an appearance in Hamilton Monday.

"It's really up to the local community to say what they need. I know there was an election and LRT was an issue and there was support from a lot of different groups in Hamilton. We're funding public transit across the country right now and I think, more than ever, we recognize that we need to be getting projects that are ready to go to create jobs ... and get cars off the road."

The federal government's willingness to contribute to the $1 billion project has been a consistent glimmer of hope for LRT advocates.

McKenna said everyone is still waiting for an answer, but added that infrastructure and public transit will be important to escaping the COVID-19 economic slump. She announced $1B for Ontario's public transit last week, which will be matched by Ontario throughout various projects.

Premier Doug Ford announced $4 billion in funding from the province and federal government Monday that's meant to support Ontario municipalities and transit systems in the wake of COVID-19. Up to $2 billion will also be allocated to public transit, also shared equally between the province and federal government, which have seen dramatically fewer riders.

LRT has been in discussion for years and has sowed division among city councillors. A list of groups to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system were due to submit bids this spring.

When the province scrapped the project in December, Metrolinx had already spent $186 million on planning and developing the line, including the purchase of 60 properties.

Then, a Hamilton transportation task force was to decide how to spend $1 billion of provincial money initially allocated for LRT. The task force came back with several recommendations, with the top ones being LRT and bus rapid transit (BRT).

"For this project, we're still waiting and I know the city is waiting for a decision from the province, but I've certainly heard from a lot of proponents, a lot of people in Hamilton who support LRT and I think any good project that has support, we will look at opportunities," McKenna said.

"It's a huge opportunity, I think, for Hamilton ... it might be good to move forward on a project."

With files from Samantha Craggs and CBC News