Don't spend LRT money on provincial highway projects, council says
'Everybody's got projects,' says the mayor, but council shouldn't start 'carving up $1B'
The city doesn't want any of the $1 billion originally earmarked for Hamilton light rail transit (LRT) to pay for highway projects the province is supposed to pay for.
City councillors voted Wednesday to send that message to the newly formed Hamilton transportation task force, a group of provincial appointees who will decide how to spend the money Metrolinx would have used to build the now-cancelled project.
Some felt the temptation. Lloyd Ferguson, Ward 12 (Ancaster) councillor, wanted the task force to consider putting $3 million toward a long-awaited ramp from Mohawk Road to Highway 403. But that failed with a 6-8 vote.
The province should already be paying for the ramp, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger. And once councillors start throwing ward projects into the mix, the conversation gets messy.
"Everybody's got projects," Eisenberger said.
"We're going to start carving up $1 billion, which is the province wants us to do."
Donna Skelly, MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, "certainly could have the wherewithal and the resources to advocate for the 403," he said.
Council will ask the task force to consider "greening the transit system" and installing more electric vehicle charging stations.
Councillors heard scant details around the status of the task force, whose meetings are held behind closed doors. Councillors can access agendas for the task force meetings, said Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9), but only after the meetings happen.
City staff are advocating for transparency, said Jason Thorne, Hamilton's general manager of planning and economic development. They've specified that they will answer technical questions in camera for the task force, but will only do presentations in open session.
City staff head to meetings with city's transportation management plan, he said, and other documents.
The province formed the task force, which has its fourth meeting on Friday, in January. The move came after Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney cancelled Hamilton's LRT project, in the works since 2007, and said the $1 billion in capital funding would be available for other Hamilton transportation projects.
Options include widening highways, bus rapid transit or even a revived LRT project. It will decide by the end of February.
Former Liberal MP Tony Valeri chairs the task force, which includes former Toronto Star journalist Richard Brennan, Anthony Primerano of LiUNA, McMaster University civil engineer Saiedeh Razavi, and Janette Smith, Hamilton's city manager.
As for the westbound ramp from Mohawk Road to the 403, Ferguson said the city has needed it since the Lincoln Alexander Parkway opened.
The previous provincial Liberals were poised to contribute $3 million to the $6 million project, Ferguson said, but when the Ontario PC government was elected, it fell by the wayside.
Skelly told CBC News Wednesday that she hasn't been advocating for funding for the ramp, or the widening of Highway 403 at Ancaster, where there's often a traffic bottleneck.
She has other priorities, she said — in particular, getting all-day GO train service to Hamilton.
If the city wants the task force to consider the ramp, she said, it should make that known.
"My priority has always been all-day GO," she said.