Province wants to help Hamilton get LRT off the ground, mayor says

Hamilton's mayor says the province wants to make light-rail transit (LRT) happen with a mix of provincial, federal and private-sector money, and he expects the province will say more "in the coming weeks."

Provincial and federal governments say they're talking LRT, but still need full proposals

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says he's more optimistic about LRT than he has been in the last couple of years. (Metrolinx)

Hamilton's mayor says the province wants to make light-rail transit (LRT) happen with a mix of provincial, federal and private-sector money, and he expects the province will say more "in the coming weeks."

The feds and the province, meanwhile, are in talks, but both say they still need more details before committing.

Fred Eisenberger said during his annual state-of-the-city question-and-answer session Wednesday that the province hopes to get the project going under a different funding model. This would include money from Ottawa and the private sector. 

"I'm more hopeful today than I have been in the last couple of years," Eisenberger said of the project's future. 

In a statement Thursday, the Ministry of Transportation says it's looking at several projects, including LRT, bus rapid transit (BRT) and more GO service. Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario is doing a technical review of these options right now, the ministry says.

As for Ottawa's involvement, "while the federal government has expressed an interest in an LRT project for Hamilton, the province has not received a firm funding commitment or funding proposal towards this. Moving forward, we will explore all options to leverage our $1 billion in funding with any potential funding partners, including the federal government, in an effort to get transit built for the people of Hamilton."

Announcement soon?

Meanwhile, federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, a Hamilton native, says she's been in regular contact with Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney about LRT, as well as Hamilton businesses. But she wants more information.

"I look forward to receiving a full proposal for this project so that we can finally move things forward," she said. 

Catherine McKenna and Fred Eisenberger talked LRT at Hamilton city hall last year. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"Having grown up in Hamilton, I understand how important good public transit is to the city in terms of creating jobs, attracting businesses and helping people get around in faster, cleaner and more affordable ways."

McKenna has long said she's open to putting federal money into Hamilton LRT, but that the province hadn't asked for help. The comments show that — informally at least — the two are in talks to work on the project together. 

Eisenberger said during Wednesday's Cable 14 session that "I'm anticipating some sort of an announcement from the provincial government soon."

How we got here

The current LRT project design would see the train run alternately down King and Main streets from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. The project has been in the works since 2007.

In 2015, then-Premier Kathleen Wynne announced $1 billion for the capital cost alone of building LRT. Her Liberal government was voted out, and Mulroney cancelled the project last December, saying it would cost too much.

There are mixed reports on how much more it would cost. Last December, Mulroney said operating, maintenance, life cycle and capital costs were around $5.5 billion. A heavily redacted version of a Turner and Townsend report, provided to the government and obtained by CBC News, only shows $2.32 billion in capital costs and $818.8 million in operating, maintenance and life cycle costs.

This summer, the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) released its own analysis showing the project would cost $3.4 billion to $3.6 billion.

That review also proposes the project get subsidies of $1.2 billion from each the provincial government and federal government, and be finished with private sector investment.

Mulroney also struck a task force, which recommended the province's $1 billion be used on LRT or BRT.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca