Metrolinx still hoping for a 2024 launch for Hamilton LRT, despite some delays
Metrolinx won't start laying track for Hamilton light rail transit (LRT) this year after all, but it's still aiming to launch the system in 2024.
Crews might start relocating some utilities this year, says Kris Jacobson, the city's LRT project lead. But construction work on the system itself, initially scheduled for 2019, likely won't start until 2020.
"For the first full year of construction work, we're still eyeballing 2020," Jacobson said.
"It potentially still could be a 2024 launch. It might be a late 2024 launch, but a 2024 operation is still possible."
Jacobson updated city councillors on the project during a budget session Wednesday.
There will be the full-time equivalent of 18.25 city staff working from the Hamilton Centre GO station this year, down from 22.25 FTE last year, Jacobson said. As the project moves from the planning to the procurement phase, he explained, staffing needs change.
The province pays the salaries of all the city staff in the LRT office as part of its $1 billion commitment to pay the capital costs for the project, Jacobson said. Another 10 Metrolinx employees work in the office too.
The joint team includes about 10 people who work on property acquisition. The province paused property acquisitions for Hamilton LRT in August, and there's no word when they'll start again.
Jacobson says in the meantime, those workers are doing research, compiling information and building files for the 90 full properties and roughly 300 partial properties Metrolinx still has to buy to implement the system.
Metrolinx has purchased 56 full properties so far, all from willing sellers, he said. Expropriations haven't been necessary.
The timing of LRT construction has been a source of anxiety since at least 2015. That's when Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster, an LRT supporter and construction industry veteran, warned fellow councillors that provincial and municipal elections in 2018 could put the project in jeopardy. The province — and a new PC government — could change its mind.
So far, at least, that hasn't happened. Premier Doug Ford said in November that he took the reelection of Mayor Fred Eisenberger, an LRT supporter, as a sign that Hamiltonians want the project. As for the new council, it hasn't had an LRT vote since it took office in December. It will have several this year.
Meanwhile, Coun. Brad Clark of Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek) wants reassurance the city won't have to pay if the project goes over budget.
Clark plans to bring a motion to a future meeting asking the Minister of Transportation to assure the city it won't be on the hook for increased costs.
Metrolinx, Clark said, "has steadfastly refused to provide an update of the projected LRT capital costs."
Clark also told Jacobson he wants to see a breakdown of how much has been spent on LRT, and for what.
Here's a breakdown of the city staff jobs in the LRT office this year:
- Jacobson and a full-time administrative assistant.
- 12.25 LRT staff.
- 2.5 communications and engagement staff.
- One legal services staff.
- 0.5 of a manager of finance position.
The system will run alternately down Main and King streets from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.