Only project paused by Ford government spending halt is Hamilton's LRT: Metrolinx

Hamilton's $1-billion light rail transit (LRT) project is the lone Metrolinx project to be paused by the provincial government's move to halt discretionary spending, but the city's mayor says the stoppage isn't a "major issue."

Mayor says premier is focused on making LRT happen and stoppage isn't a 'major issue'

An artist rendition of Hamilton's LRT system. (Metrolinx)

Hamilton's $1-billion light rail transit (LRT) is the only Metrolinx project that will be paused by the provincial government's move to halt discretionary spending, but the city's mayor says the stoppage isn't a "major issue."

In a statement sent to CBC News Thursday, the public transport agency confirmed it has halted its efforts to buy new properties along the proposed 14-kilometre line in order to follow "recent government direction on discretionary spending."

"The temporary pause on property acquisition activities is only related to the Hamilton LRT project," added Metrolinx spokesperson Fannie Sunshine. "All other Metrolinx projects are proceeding according to their own schedules."

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Doug Ford, ordered a freeze on hiring and discretionary spending earlier this summer in an effort to get a better grip on Ontario's financial situation.

Horwath calls LRT a 'casualty' of Ford's cuts

The impact on transit in Hamilton drew sharp criticism from Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, who issued a statement saying the city has already waited too long to see movement on the LRT.

I heard from the Premier yesterday that they're committed to public transportation and they're committed to the project in Hamilton.- Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, 

"Now, Doug Ford's cuts have hit Hamilton's LRT project, halting progress and worrying Hamiltonians that the entire project may be at risk under Ford," she wrote, adding the move undermines more than 60 votes the city's council has held in support of the project and threatens "hundreds of well paying jobs."

"It's wrong for Ford to even consider making Hamilton's LRT the latest casualty in his plan to cut funding and control cities.  Not only will this impact Hamilton's transportation needs, but it means the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of underground infrastructure improvements that are now on hold."

The reason Hamilton's LRT was specifically stalled by the government-ordered halt comes down to timing, according to Sunshine.

"The other projects were further along in the process," she explained.

Mayor says work continuing

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger met with Ford on Wednesday and it's his understanding, Hamilton's LRT isn't actually the only project that's been halted.

He said the premier's staff explained the move to stop property acquisitions for the LRT was based on concerns around Metrolinx land buying for an extension of the GO transit network toward Niagara.

"Yes, we're on of the few projects that's still in the land acquisition stage, but so is Metrolinx GO transit for the Niagara expansion," said Eisenberger. "That's my understanding, that's where the concern is and that's where the pause came from."

The Mayor added he doesn't believe the halt is a "major issue."

This model shows what Hamilton's LRT system would look like. (Metrolinx)

"We're still on for the procurement process and lots of other work is being done," he said.

Metrolinx has purchased 45 properties needed to widen the route along Main Street, King Street and Queenston Road, according to Sunshine.

That's about 50 per cent of the full properties that are needed to complete the project. But the agency says there's still "sufficient time" to buy all of the outstanding properties necessary.

Premier supports LRT

During the campaign, Ford said he was committed to supporting the LRT or providing $1 billion for transit projects if council turns down light rail.

But during his conversation with the premier Wednesday, Eisenberger said the focus was squarely on LRT as the solution for the city's transportation woes.

"I heard from the Premier yesterday that they're committed to public transportation and that they're committed to the project in Hamilton and anticipate Hamilton moving forward."