Money from James N. spur line likely going toward Mountain rapid transit: councillor

Metrolinx is keeping mum, but some councillors say Mountain service seems likely.

Metrolinx is keeping mum, but some councillors say Mountain service seems likely

The design has LRT running in the same lanes as cars on James Street North. (City of Hamilton)

Money that would have built A line LRT from King Street East to the West Harbour GO station seems poised to go to "some form of rapid transit" on the Mountain, says one city councillor.

Sam Merulla of Ward 4 says it's "my understanding" that money from the dropped spur line will go to the Upper James Street corridor instead.

In October, Merulla called for a mix of bus rapid transit (BRT) and light rail transit (LRT) for the Upper James corridor in October to happen at the same time as the B line.

"That's becoming more and more realistic, from my perspective," he said Thursday.

The comments come after CBC Hamilton learned this week that the province was changing the plans for Hamilton's $1 billion LRT system.

Despite the reconsideration of the spur line becoming public, Metrolinx is keeping mum on its plans to scrap the line and what led to the decision to rework the plan. 

The province and Metrolinx are looking at "alternatives" to the spur line, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger when contacted by CBC Hamilton.

"I would expect there's been a reassessment of the value of the spur, and they're looking at alternatives that would have more value in terms of the money we have in place," he said.

Hamilton's LRT plan now includes a stop at Gage Park, although Metrolinx is considering getting rid of the A line, which is in red on this map. (Metrolinx/City of Hamilton)

Initially, the system was supposed to run alternately down Main Street and King Street East from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. In 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a B line route from McMaster to the Queenston traffic circle. She also announced a spur line from King Street East to the West Harbour GO station — or the waterfront, budget permitting.

There's a growing acceptance that the scope of the project has expanded.- Coun. Chad Collins

LRT proponents on social media weren't discouraged by the change this week. That includes Ryan McGreal, editor of Raise the Hammer.

"The spur line always felt like the weakest part of the plan for me," he said.

Another theory floated is the A line cancellation would make way for an express bus from the waterfront to the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport.

Airport president Vijay Bathija wouldn't say whether he'd been in discussions about such an idea, just that he likes any increased transit to the airport.

More than 1,100 people work there, he said. So there's "a significant demand for rapid and cost-effective public transit.

"We are supportive of any plans by the province and the city that make such transit easier, as well as connecting the airport to the main hubs of the city and onward to the Greater Toronto Area."

Mountain service isn't a new idea

In any event, Mountain service wouldn't be a new idea. The city already has plans for a BLAST network that would see rapid transit throughout the city, from Waterdown to Winona and the waterfront to the Ancaster business park.

In that plan, the A line is the most immediate priority after the currently planned LRT line. The timeline for that, which would go from the West Harbour GO station to the airport, is listed as "the next 15 years."

While political opposition to the LRT project has frequetntly cited the need to improve transit on the Mountain, adding this Mountain component isn't enough to convince Donna Skelly, Ward 7 councillor. She'd rather see $1 billion go to a "modern, green, cost efficient, flexible system."

Skelly sees the change as a political move ahead of the 2018 provincial election.

What I can say is that we remain fully committed to the Hamilton LRT.- Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx spokesperson

"It appears to me that we're moving forward with a plan that is being drawn on the back of a napkin," she said. "If all the sudden, buses are the preferred option, then perhaps buses should be a preferred option for the entire city."

Merulla doesn't agree with the "back of a napkin" idea. "Anyone who's built anything recognizes the plan will be a plan in flux," he said.

'More news will be coming'

Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5, an LRT opponent, thinks there's a cost overrun aspect to the change, too. Metrolinx has said all along that if the project seemed poised to go over budget, it would modify the scope, he said.

"As more information is made available about the B line in terms of costs, there's a growing acceptance that the scope of the project has expanded."

​For its part, Metrolinx isn't saying much, except that "more news will be coming in the weeks ahead."

"What I can say is that we remain fully committed to the Hamilton LRT," said spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins.

"We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the city's elected officials and its residents to make sure that this is a plan that makes sense and that we get it right."

Upcoming meetings

Metrolinx and the city are holding public information centres and question-and-answer sessions this month.

The public information sessions are as follows:

  • Monday, Jan. 16, 4 to 8 p.m., Dr. John M. Perkins Centre atrium, 1429 Main Street E.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 17, 4 to 8 p.m., David Braley Health Sciences Centre, 2nd floor auditorium, 100 Main St. W.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 18, 4 to 8 p.m., McMaster Innovation Park, atrium, 175 Longwood Rd. S.

The community update meetings are as follows:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 11, 7 to 9 p.m., Sackville Seniors Centre, Fireside Lodge, 780 Upper Wentworth St.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 24, 7 to 9 p.m., Dundas Town Hall, level 2 auditorium, 60 Main St., Dundas.
  • Thursday, Jan. 26, 7 to 9 p.m., Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School, lecture hall, 127 Gray Rd., Stoney Creek.