There is an emerging concern that delays to the Hamilton Light Rail Transit approval may result in cancellation of the entire project.
Last week, Hamilton city councillors met for 13 hours to discuss issues related to the LRT, with the hopes of garnering provincial approval for an environmental assessment. This approval serves as a prerequisite to signing a master agreement with Metrolinx to improve the coordination and integration of public transportation in the Hamilton and Toronto areas.
One outcome of the meeting was that the Bay Street stop was rejected from the LRT route. Overall, however, the council discussions will only lead to more delays in the LRT process.
The ultimate decision that came from the meeting was to table the updated environmental assessment for the next meeting, which will be held on April 19.
“The councillors want more information, and more opportunity to discuss. The truth is, after eight hours of meeting continuously, it starts to lag in productivity and focus,” said Aidan Johnson, councillor for Ward 1. Johnson is the chair of the LRT implementation committee and he is in favour of the project.
“It became clear to many of the counselors that the extra information and discussion they needed in order to clarify their own ideas about LRT would best happen in a fresh meeting on another day.”
The duration and scope of the LRT project demands the review of a report that is lengthy in nature.
The 1,400 page report details precisely how LRT will be laid out, and all the details about where the tracks will lie and the impact on Wards 1-4 both during the building phase and after it has been running. This is so city councillors may evaluate if there are substantial consequences to the local Hamilton environment.
“The councillors want more information, and more opportunity to discuss. The truth is, after eight hours of meeting continuously, it starts to lag in productivity”
Ward 1 Councillor
While ecology is definitely an aspect that is considered, the environmental assessment entails for much more, such as the bearing of LRT on the city environment, the build form of the city, and livability of the city.
Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla recently made waves with his claims that the project may be in jeopardy. He is concerned that delays with the LRT proposal will eventually lead to a withdrawal of funding for the project.
He has coined several of his colleagues as a “gang of 10”, who are using the pro-LRT argument simply as a means of gaining political attention, without a genuine regard for following through with LRT. He warns that this may lead to the loss of the $1 billion provincial investment in infrastructure across the lower city.
“If their intent was to defer and delay for the sole purpose of making the project better, I would have no issue. But I realize that their strategy has more to do with a politics with no intent of ever supporting [LRT] and for that I say shame on them,” Merulla said.
The reality is that the $1 billion provincial investment enriches Hamilton infrastructure in ways beyond the LRT. The withdrawal of this funding due to these delays may have greater consequences.
“To gain attention for a project [such as LRT] that they believe is not popular and then waste the money because it is a train to nowhere that does not improve their constituents’ lives,” noted Merulla when asked to describe what he believed was going on.
With another council meeting set in place for April 19, it will take at least a few more weeks for the environmental assessment to be finalized. We have yet to see whether these delays will prove hazardous to the overall LRT transport system projected to be complete by 2024.