Hamilton

Hamilton LRT a near certainty as councillors vote to sign binding agreement

It's a crucial day for Hamilton light-rail transit (LRT), as city councillors voted to ink a deal that will lock them into accepting the massive $3.4-billion transit project.

The city will sign a memorandum with the province and Metrolinx for the $3.4B project

City councillors will vote Wednesday whether to sign a memorandum of agreement for Hamilton LRT, which will be binding. (City of Hamilton)

Hamilton city councillors will sign a binding agreement that will see a $3.4-billion light-rail transit (LRT) system move ahead.

Council members, as the general issues committee, voted 11-3 Wednesday morning to sign a memorandum of understanding with Metrolinx and the province.

That memorandum will be "binding and enforceable," a staff report says, and essentially lock Hamilton into accepting LRT.

In a surprise move, long-time opponent Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek) spoke in favour, saying it's clear the project is moving forward, so he'll support it. 

"The investments in the federal and provincial government on this LRT project is unprecedented in Hamilton's history," Clark said.

Jason Farr (Ward 2, downtown) said the push forward is long overdue, referencing LRT's 14-year journey.

"When we started this bumpy ride we're on today," he said, "I think trains were only powered by coal."

Three councillors, including Judi Partridge (Ward 15, Flamborough-Waterdown), seemed resigned but opposed to it.

"I'm very concerned about the taxes in the future and what they're going to look like," she said. "I do think there are many, many areas of the city that are losing out."

Council signed a memorandum of agreement in 2016, in a previous iteration of the plan, but that had an off ramp. This time, it doesn't, says the report, which council discussed Wednesday morning. 

There'll be more details coming around issues such as operating costs, which Hamilton will have to cover, and fare box revenue, which Hamilton will keep.

Phil Verster, Metrolinx CEO, said it's up to Hamilton what to charge to ride the LRT.

"It's your choice," he said. "It's your revenue."

Verster says it's too soon to say exactly how long construction will take, although previous timelines estimate it will take four years. Metrolinx will break up the project into several bids, which Verster says will help it attract more competitive offers in light of mass infrastructure spending in Canada and the U.S.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says shovels should be in the ground in early to mid 2022.

Hamilton city council still has to ratify the vote next Wednesday. But signing the document will be council's biggest step yet toward a project 14 years in the making. 

City council first pondered LRT in 2007, when it used a Metrolinx grant to do an environmental assessment. The project, which would run alternately down King and Main streets from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, is part of the BLAST network, which would see rapid transit eventually stretch throughout the city.

In 2015, the then-Liberal provincial government announced $1 billion to build the system. A spur line along James Street North was added and then removed. At one point, the route was shortened to the Queenston traffic circle, and possibly even to Gage Park.

In late 2019, the province cancelled LRT, saying it would cost Hamilton taxpayers too much to operate. The province struck a task force to look at other ways to spend the money, and the task force recommended rapid transit.

Then in May, the project got back on track with the province and the federal government each committing $1.7 billion. Both said the money can only be used for LRT.

Following next Wednesday's vote, Metrolinx and the city will restart a joint LRT office. It also gives the city manager the authority to execute a staffing agreement with Metrolinx and the province without getting council approval — provided it doesn't impact local taxes.


How they voted

In favour

Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Jason Farr (2), Nrinder Nann (3), Sam Merulla (4), Tom Jackson (6), Esther Pauls (7), John-Paul Danko (8), Brad Clark (9), Lloyd Ferguson (12), Arlene VanderBeek (13), Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

Opposed

Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), Judi Partridge (15).

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