LRT is already at risk of being late like Hamilton's stadium: Ferguson

Lloyd Ferguson says Metrolinx needs to hurry up on Hamilton's LRT project or it risks being a year late - or worse.

'Unless we get a hitch in our giddyup, we're going to be in trouble'

The new light rapid transit car sits in front of city hall earlier this year as part of a Metrolinx display. An Ancaster councillor says Metrolinx needs to get moving on LRT or it will be late like the stadium. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

A city councillor with 32 years of construction experience says it's already crunch time for Hamilton's light-rail transit (LRT) line.

Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster, who headed a construction company that built Highway 407 and other major provincial projects, said the city and Metrolinx need to have more urgency to avoid the risk of the project being killed — or of being late like Hamilton's stadium.

The stated target is to have shovels in the ground by 2018 and he said that needs to happen in case a provincial election that year puts another party in power, and that party wants to cancels LRT.

Either that, or it will be a year overdue like Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field, an Infrastructure Ontario project.

Look how much time has lapsed since the announcement. We don't even have the agreement with Metrolinx yet.- Coun. Lloyd Ferguson

"I'm suggesting that unless we get a hitch in our giddyup, we're going to be in trouble," said Ferguson, who is former head of Dufferin Construction. "This is where projects slide."

Ferguson made the comments at an LRT subcommittee meeting on Monday. The group formed after Premier Kathleen Wynne announced $1 billion in provincial funding in May to build LRT, which is due in 2024.

The line will run along King Street from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle, and along James Street North to either the West Harbour GO station or the waterfront, depending on the budget.

The subcommittee discussed a "communications protocol" between the city and Metrolinx at Monday's meeting. Ferguson suggested there were more urgent matters.

LRT design and build, including an environmental assessment, will take years, Ferguson said.

"Look how much time has lapsed since the announcement," he said. "We don't even have the agreement with Metrolinx yet. That's where you run into problems."

There aren't any guarantees in life.- Chris Murray, city manager

If the city doesn't set up ambitious targets and stick with them, it could be in "a stadium situation," said Ferguson.

"There's no feet to the fire because 2018 looks like a long way away," he said. "I'm telling you that's where they all get in trouble."

Major construction is due in 2019, said city manager Chris Murray. But Ferguson worries that the spring 2018 election will see another party elected and the project killed. 

There's also a municipal election that year, and a new council could kill the project, Ferguson said.

Murray said that could happen. "There aren't any guarantees in life."

"It's always a matter to think about and be concerned about, but right now, our attitude is let's get it done.'

Murray will give the subcommittee a timeline in January. He also hopes to have a draft memorandum of understanding with Metrolinx then.

The current plan is to have LRT go to the waterfront, Murray said.

"At this point, everyone is wanting to accomplish what was set out, and that is to extend it to the waterfront."

Other highlights:

  • The city and Metrolinx will open a joint office in the Hunter Street GO station by the end of the year.
  • The draft communications protocol has Metrolinx staff dealing with the media and training spokespeople.