6 lessons Hamilton can learn from Waterloo's LRT construction

We asked Waterloo residents with a stake in the LRT construction what advice they would give to Hamilton.

Kitchener-Waterloo is about seven years ahead of Hamilton when it comes to LRT.

The Waterloo region is about nine months into construction on a system due in 2017. Construction in Hamilton is due to start in 2019, with the $1-billion system due in 2024.

Both involve construction that will close portions of a major city artery. In both cases, that's King Street.

Here are some lessons Hamilton can learn from Kitchener-Waterloo.

Prepare to buy land.

Waterloo region is doing as many as 180 separate land acquisitions for LRT, says Thomas Schmidt, the region's transportation co-ordinator. Some of them are a couple of acres, but most are slivers needed to reposition sidewalks and make other adjustments.

Just because they're small doesn't mean they're insignificant, Schmidt says. And they have to be incorporated into the plan.

"It's actually just as much work to schedule a small piece of land," he said.

If you can, do the construction a piece at a time, although opinions vary.

Waterloo's LRT construction consortium, Grandlinq, has torn up the 19-kilometre stretch to do the below- and above-ground work on LRT. Much of the work below ground is replacing decades-old infrastructure, including watermains, storm sewers and pipelines. For that reason, it's more efficient to do it all at once, Schmidt says.

It is quite helpful when your project is no longer a political football.- Tim Mollison, Waterloo LRT advocate

Hamilton city manager Chris Murray says that's a detail not yet decided here. But Mike Williamson, owner of Central Fresh Market in Waterloo, says it hurts businesses to do it all at once. His advice for Hamilton? If you can, do it a few blocks at a time.

However, LRT advocate Tim Mollison, a member of the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group, has the opposite advice. He compares it to ripping off a Band-Aid.

By doing it all now, "I don't think we'll anticipate much (construction) beyond May of next year," he said.

Get it started before the election.

This week, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson urged Hamilton and Metrolinx to start construction by summer 2018, rather than the planned timeline of 2019. There will be provincial and municipal elections that year, Ferguson said. And either can result in the death of LRT.

Mollison, who has fought for Waterloo LRT for years, agrees with that. "Political considerations are definitely worth looking at," he said.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation.- Mike Williamson, Waterloo business owner

"It is quite helpful when your project is no longer a political football."

If you own a business on the route, start saving money now.

That's the advice of the Downtown Kitchener BIA to Hamilton businesses on the King Street LRT route. "I know it's not always possible," said Linda Jutzi, executive director. But it helps. Starting a rainy day fund will help weather a few months of sales being down 30 per cent.

And however long the city says construction will take, she says, plan for longer. There will likely be delays.

Create incentives to keep people going downtown.

The Downtown Kitchener BIA has created incentive programs such as Chits for Charles and Dollars for Duke. It's also hired "downtown ambassadors" who walk around the downtown streets and answer questions, and direct people to open businesses. The City of Kitchener has also agreed to offer more free parking during LRT construction. All of these things encourage people to come downtown, says Jutzi.

Relax the bylaws.

Williamson made more than 400 signs directing people to his business. Others have done it too. City staff has taken them down because they contravene the sign bylaw.

Williamson says there has to be some latitude given in situations like that. When businesses are fighting to stay afloat, maybe that's not the time to be handing out parking tickets or tearing down signs.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation," he said. "And we're fighting to keep our head above water."


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