Hamilton

Federal government should use Hamilton LRT as a post COVID-19 job-creation project, mayor says

The federal government is looking for shovel-ready infrastructure projects to kick start the post-COVID-19 economy, and Hamilton's mayor says he knows of just the one — light rail transit.

Ottawa says it will be looking for shovel-ready infrastructure projects to jump start a post-COVID economy

Metrolinx used this image as an artist rendition of what Hamilton's LRT system would have looked like. (Metrolinx)

The federal government is looking for shovel-ready infrastructure projects to kick start the post-COVID-19 economy, and Hamilton's mayor says he knows of just the one — light rail transit.

Fred Eisenberger said Friday that "higher-order transit" would tick all of the boxes when Ottawa looks to create jobs and boost Hamilton's economy. He'd like Ottawa to consider bus rapid transit (BRT) or LRT, and "obviously, you know my view is LRT."

Eisenberger said Hamilton has a catalogue of capital needs it would pitch to the federal government, but the money should go to a meaningful project.

"I believe they ought to be higher-order infrastructure projects, not bocce courts or playgrounds or swing sets or splash pads," he said.

"This needs to be part of the backlog of infrastructure deficit that we already have that we can fill in a hurry."

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna said this week that she wants to eventually speed up the delivery of $180 billion in infrastructure money that's budgeted but not allocated. That would help Canada's economy recover from the pandemic's blow, she said.

LRT has been years in the works, although city council is divided about the project. Shortlisted consortiums to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system were due to submit bids this spring.

When the province cancelled the project in December, Metrolinx had already spent $186 million on planning and developing the line, including buying 60 properties.

The province then struck a Hamilton transportation task force to advise on how to spend $1 billion the province had allocated to build LRT. The task force came back with several recommendations, with the top ones being LRT or BRT.

McKenna said this year that her government would look at chipping in for LRT if the province asked, although the pandemic has been an economic game changer. If pandemic measures last until May 31, the city is looking at a $22.9 million budget shortfall.

Even if Ottawa didn't choose rapid transit, Eisenberger said the city has plenty of needed infrastructure projects.

"You don't have to look very far for capital projects that can get started right away."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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