Mayor confident minister will announce LRT at Hamilton visit

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca promised visit still hasn't been scheduled but Hamilton's mayor believes when he comes it will be to announce an LRT plan.

Shortening the route to save costs "not on the table"

"LRT is the direction I believe the province is going to go," says Mayor Fred Eisenberger. (Adam Carter/CBC)

There's still no word on when Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca will come to Hamilton with a rapid transit announcement, but Mayor Fred Eisenberger says he's fairly confident that when he does, it will mean LRT.

The province has set aside $16 billion for transit projects in the GTHA — including, it's said, "rapid transit" for Hamilton. But it has refused to clarify whether that means bus rapid transit (BRT) or LRT.

Eisenberger says the premier told him in January that the province will fund the full capital costs of LRT. And even though the province has not publicly specified LRT, "LRT is the direction I believe the province is going to go," he said.

He, like many interviewed by CBC Hamilton on Thursday, believes the announcement will be in June, once everyone's schedules are aligned.

Leading up the announcement, the city, Metrolinx and the province all acknowledge conducting ongoing talks and negotiations about rapid transit. Those discussions, according to the various parties, include cost, the route, connections to the GO system and operational issues.

On Thursday, Minister of Transportation spokesperson Patrick Searle was vague, saying only that "productive discussions are ongoing."

I know there is a ton of interest, excitement and passion in Hamilton about what the future will hold with respect to transit investments. That's why I do look forward to being in the city in the coming weeks to provide a very thorough update to the people of Hamilton.- Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca

"The minister is committed to making sure that we get this right," he said.

He also sent a statement from Del Duca saying he knows there's "a ton of interest, excitement and passion in Hamilton about what the future holds with respect to transit investments.

"That's why I do look forward to being in the city in the coming weeks to provide a very thorough update to the people of Hamilton."

The city has been negotiating with Metrolinx since last summer on "a rapid transit plan for Hamilton," said Annemarie Aikins, Metrolinx spokesperson.

Those negotiations include the cost of the system and the route.

The stated route in the Rapid Ready report is 13.5 kilometres from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. But the city's previous nodes and corridors study show an LRT system could stop at Ottawa Street, the former City Motor Hotel site at Queenston Road or several other places along the route. There is some speculation the announcement might be for less than the full length.

Go connections

Eisenberger says he's heard no talk of altering the route to reduce costs. Those discussions happen "in the background," he said. But "from my perspective, it's really the focus of having a B line, and truncating a B line for the sake of reducing costs isn't on the table."

The discussions do include connecting LRT connected to GO stations, he said.

The talks began last summer, after Del Duca visited councillors behind closed doors. Then-councillor Brian McHattie emerged saying the meeting had been a positive one for LRT, but when quizzed by reporters, Del Duca only said "rapid transit."​

Mike Kirkopoulos, city spokesperson, says a lot of the talks have been "operational in nature." The city manager's office has been handling the discussions.

"We've been having high-level conversations with Metrolinx on a wide array of issues," he said.

Whenever Del Duca visits, it will be the end of a frustrating wait for Hamilton. The city has been laying groundwork for LRT since 2007. While campaigning for the provincial election, a Liberal media release said the party planned to implement two light-rail lines in Hamilton.

In 2013, council approved the Rapid Ready report, which asked for eventual LRT. Some councillors have been mixed on the idea of LRT since.

The province has announced LRT lines for Waterloo and Brampton-Mississauga, but nothing yet for Hamilton. Earlier this month, Premier Kathleen Wynne even pledged LRT for Hamilton, then took it back.

A Hamilton LRT line from McMaster to Eastgate Square would cost $1 billion to build according to 2014 Metrolinx estimates.  Shorter route would cost substantially less.

Transit advocates have calculated that Metrolinx has about $950 million left that it hasn't allocated to other projects.

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