Some Hamilton councillors frustrated that they haven't seen an LRT budget

Metrolinx is $171 million into Hamilton's light-rail transit (LRT) project, and city councillors still haven't seen a budget for it.

The longer council is kept in the dark, says Lloyd Ferguson, the worse the shock will be if it's over budget

This model shows what Hamilton's LRT system would look like. Councillors say they want to know if the cost has crept past $1 billion, and Metrolinx isn't telling them. (Metrolinx)

Metrolinx is $171 million into Hamilton's light-rail transit (LRT) project, but city councillors still haven't seen the budget for it, raising fears that the city will eventually be on the hook for additional millions.

The province has committed $1 billion to build the system from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. The city doesn't know if the cost is still $1 billion, and it doesn't want any last-minute surprises.

The city could ask Ottawa to make up any shortfalls, said Lloyd Ferguson, a Ward 12 (Ancaster) councillor and construction industry veteran. But it needs to make that request as soon as possible.

"There must be a spreadsheet put together where certain assumptions were made," Ferguson said at a city council general issues committee Wednesday.

There has to be a capital budget, he said. "It's construction 101." Metrolinx, an arm's-length provincial organization, is building the system, and "they're not disclosing it to us."

If it turns out a year from now that the city has to make the difference, he said, "it's going to be a very difficult decision for us."

Metrolinx has already said it would reduce the scope of the project to make it fit into a $1 billion budget. Still, fear of unknown costs dominated the LRT discussion Wednesday. Councillors voted to ask the agency to provide an extensive update. They also voted to ask whether money spent on communications and public relations is part of the $1 billion.

John-Paul Danko (Ward 8, west Mountain) says it's inappropriate to release an updated budget figure in the middle of a bidding process. Even he's curious though.

Last-minute sticker shock, he said, "will reopen the whole discussion around LRT in general."

Here are some other highlights from the update:

  • Major construction won't happen until 2021, but Metrolinx still plans to launch the system in 2024. Some demolition will start this summer. Work relocating utility, water and sewer lines will happen mostly in 2020.
  • Three consortiums will bid on the project by spring 2020. Bids were initially due this spring, and then extended to the fall, so this is a year behind the initial schedule.
  • As of March, Metrolinx had spent $151 million on the project, with another $20 million committed. These costs date back to 2007. The agency has spent $75 million to buy property.
  • Metrlinx is buying 90 full and 300 partial properties. It will begin expropriating properties, when necessary, over the next year.
  • So far, the agency has bought 15 residential properties, with a total of 55 residential units. Of those units, 40 were occupied and a total of 66 people lived there. The team has found new housing for 43 people and is still looking for housing for the rest. Metrolinx will buy about 15 more.

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


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