Metrolinx will trim Hamilton LRT project before it goes over budget

Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) project won't go over its $1-billion budget, says a Metrolinx official. Even if it comes at the cost of a hoped-for link to the waterfront.
Metrolinx says the $1-billion LRT project will be on budget, even if it has to eliminate some of the elements. (Steer Davies Gleave)

Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) project won't go over its $1-billion budget, says a Metrolinx official. Even if the city's vision of an extended line to the waterfront has to be scrapped to stay within the budget.

Metrolinx has a hard cap of $1 billion for the project, which will run along King Street from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle. A planned spur line will also run along James Street from King Street to the new West Harbour GO station. The province also spoke of an eventual extension to the water but the city wants to build that into initial planning.

Metrolinx won't go over $1 billion as it tenders for design and construction of the project, said Jack Collins, chief capital officer with Metrolinx.

If all of the tenders surpass $1 billion, Metrolinx will have a "scope ladder" — items it will delete to make sure the project is on budget. That scope ladder would include the hoped-for extension to the waterfront.

"We'll have an affordability cap on the project," Collins said.

Collins talked money and other issues on Wednesday at the city's first LRT subcommittee meeting. Councillors asked numerous questions around money, communication and other factors.

Terry Whitehead, councillor for Ward 8, has been worried about the project going over budget. He's still worried about that.

"My mind will be at ease when those contracts are secured," he said.

Other items discussed:

Whether Main Street will be converted to two way

City manager Chris Murray gave councillors a recap of why King Street was chosen for LRT and not Main. Murray said King makes more sense in terms of economic uplift and traffic flow, and that Main — along with Cannon and north-south streets — is better suited to handle traffic displaced by LRT.

But Murray said afterward that no decision has been made about whether Main will be converted to two way. And its conversion isn't a foregone conclusion. But it will likely have to be decided in 2016.

The firm Steer Davis Gleave is doing a detailed traffic flow study, which will be incorporated into the city's transportation master plan, he said. That plan is where city council will vote on whether Main will be converted to two way. 

Whitehead has been against converting Main to two-way traffic. He said afterward that he's still reluctant, but "I'm not drawing a line in the sand."

Helping businesses during the long construction period

LRT construction will move along the line over five years. Businesses will suffer, said Sam Merulla, councillor for Ward 4. And it will be similar, if not larger, to complaints over the construction of the Red Hill Valley Parkway.

Residents will be upset, he said. Businesses will be too.

Collins said Metrolinx has implemented programs in other areas impacted by LRT to help promote businesses. Kathy Drewitt, executive director of the Downtown Hamilton BIA, said her organization is establishing a war chest to do extra marketing.

The city and Metrolinx are also establishing a communications plan.

The next 90 days

  • The city will set up a joint Metrolinx/city LRT office. Eventually, Collins said, it will employ 100 people.
  • The city will finalize a memorandum of agreement with Metrolinx. 
  • The city will hire an LRT project director. Metrolinx has already hired one.
  • The city and Metrolinx will start work on design and environmental assessment.