NEWS
03/27/2017 16:07 EDT | Updated 03/28/2018 01:12 EDT

8 LRT questions Hamilton councillors will debate Tuesday

Should the city add a stop at Bay Street.? Who will operate LRT? Does LRT mean turning parts of King Street into two-way traffic? What will it cost to abandon the project?

All of those decisions will be made at a marathon city council committee meeting Tuesday, when councillors vote on numerous reports around Hamilton's $1 billion transit project.

Taken together, the decisions make the meeting a key stepping stone for the project. If key questions are settled, it sets the stage for the city signing a master agreement with Metrolinx later this year. That master agreement will legally bind the city to follow through with the project.

There are more than 40 citizens and groups lined to speak at the meeting. Some are in favour of LRT, some are against.

Councillors will discuss topics such as whether the city will have to pay back millions if it turns down LRT, and an updated environmental assessment. That update includes making King Street traffic two-way through much of the lower city. It also includes a planned maintenance and storage facility on Longwood Road, and the plan to have overhead wires to power the system.

  • Hamilton councillors about to cast a major vote on LRT's environmental impact

  • Take a ride on Hamilton's proposed LRT route

LRT will run alternately down King and Main streets from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle. The province has committed the capital cost of building it.

The province has also announced bus rapid transit from the waterfront to the airport, although how much that will cost, and where the money will come from, isn't yet clear.

Here are eight LRT questions councillors will discuss at a special general issues committee meeting Tuesday:

1. Whether there should be a Bay Street stop. Cost: $2.6M.

The city is debating whether to ask Metrolinx for a Bay Street stop. The stop would mean acquiring part of four properties totaling 0.13 acres, as well as one full property of 0.24 acres. The stop would cost about $2.6 million. The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce asked for it. Council has been back and forth on this issue.

2. If the city cancels LRT now, will it have to pay back millions of dollars?

Metrolinx and the city have already been working together on LRT since summer 2015. Last fall, city staff said Metrolinx has already spent as much as $70 million on the project so far. That raises the question: if city council kills LRT, will it have to pay that back? Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, will move a motion asking city staff to report back on this.

3. How LRT will benefit local workers

A staff report says Metrolinx plans a "community benefits program" for Hamilton LRT. That will include a commitment to "local investment and procurement from businesses in Hamilton," partnering with local agencies to hire Hamilton workers and using apprenticeships.

4. When the A-line BRT will be built

Earlier this year, the province scrapped a plan to have an A-line LRT spur from King Street to the waterfront. Instead, it is offered bus rapid transit (BRT) from the waterfront to the airport. The province wouldn't say if all of that cost would fall within LRT's $1 billion budget, which the province is providing, nor did it say who would pay for the shortfall if it didn't.

BRT will be a separate project, a staff report says, but current plans are for it to have the same end date as LRT. That's 2024.

Here's a brief preview of the proposed timeline:

  • Next four to six months: planning study, preliminary costs, business case.
  • Six to 12 months: Early design, updated costs, early service level estimates.
  • Next two years: Cost and schedule, final business case.

5. Why the A-line LRT spur was cancelled

A staff presentation says that the spur was scrapped, in part, because of "extremely low" ridership projections. So planners were worried about what it would cost to operate it.

Councillors who are skeptical of LRT, such as Coun. Terry Whitehead, worry who will cover the shortfall if ridership falls below projections. So this point will likely be discussed.

6. Who will operate LRT

The plan is for a third party to operate LRT via a design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) model, rather than a design-build-finance-maintain (DBFM) model, a staff report says. DBFM, with the city operating the system, works better for cities that already have some rail service, such as Toronto. If Hamilton used DBFM, the report says, it would have to hire staff with rail expertise.

7. 25 sites along the route are contaminated – and other details

Councillors will discuss a weighty updated environmental assessment talking about the environmental impact of LRT. The original was released in 2011. Since then, some elements have changed. Among them: how many sites along the route are known to be contaminated. A 2009 report said there were nine. Since then, planners have spotted 16 more. The most common contaminant causes are gas, automotive, repair and sales businesses and dry cleaning/laundry.

The report recommends that planners develop contingency plans for these sites.

8. The impact of LRT on people with disabilities

Brian Smiley, who describes himself as a patient advocate, will talk about concerns he has around LRT and people who are elderly or disabled. He's one of many speakers on board for Tuesday.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC