Hamilton city council won't vote on LRT money this week after all

City councillors were going to cast a crucial vote this week to accept $1 billion from the province for LRT- or not. But the city councillor behind it says he's taking a gentler approach.

'It's not about Sam Merulla. It's about LRT'

Under the LRT design plan, King Street at International Village will be one way for cars. City councillors were scheduled to vote on whether to accept $1 billion from the province on Wednesday, but will likely vote in June instead. (City of Hamilton)

Hamilton's city councillors will put off a crucial light rail transit (LRT) vote on Wednesday so those who are nervous about it can get some answers.

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, had planned to push councillors to formally accept $1 billion from the province – the capital cost of building LRT.

He introduced the motion last week, only to have it deferred until Wednesday. Now city councillors won't vote on that day either. They will likely vote on June 1 instead, Merulla says.

"We want to make sure people feel comfortable signing on the dotted line."

If you force people's hands without the information, you might not like the results you get.- Coun. Terry Whitehead

Mayor Fred Eisenberger and others have been meeting with councillors nervous about LRT to try to "mitigate potential concerns," Merulla says. He'd rather see that continue than force a vote.

"It's too important to be heavy handed on it."

There are indications that Merulla's motion wouldn't have passed anyway, potentially calling the whole project into question.

Merulla tried to have councillors vote on it at a city council meeting last week, reacting to some dissenting voices against LRT around the council table. Council has voted for LRT several times, he said, implying that those against it now are "weak willed and lack balls."

Councillors voted 9-6 to defer the decision until Wednesday. That's when city staff will present a design study for the line that will run from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle, and down James Street North to the West Harbour GO station – or the waterfront, budget permitting.

All of the nine who voted to put off the decision have some trepidation about LRT, ranging from its impact on transit on the Mountain to how its five-year construction would impact small businesses.

One of them is Terry Whitehead, a Ward 8 councillor who says he's hearing from constituents who don't want LRT.

He still has a lot of questions around how much property will have to be expropriated, what impact LRT will have on traffic and other factors. He says he preferred not having to vote on Wednesday.

"If you force people's hands without the information, you might not like the results you get," he said.

Merulla says he'd rather it not be him who brings forward the motion next time. He'd rather see Eisenberger do it instead.

"It's not about Sam Merulla," he said. "It's about LRT."