Special Report: Light Rail

Mayor, Premier Out of Sync on Rapid Transit Funding Commitment

I really want to believe the Province is acting in good faith on the LRT file. However, if they are just being prudent there seem to be less confusing ways to go about it.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 27, 2015

On Monday, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and talked about rapid transit funding. Following that, Mayor Eisenberger met with Transport Minister Steven Del Duca and they also spoke about rapid transit.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Hamilton City Manager Chris Murray (Image Credit: Government of Ontario)
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Hamilton City Manager Chris Murray (Image Credit: Government of Ontario)

According to Mayor Eisenberger, both Premier Wynne and Minister Del Duca committed the province to provide 100 percent full capital funding for the City's light rail transit (LRT) plan along the east-west B-Line between McMaster University and Eastgate Square.

Eisenberger also said he told the Premier he wants to establish a citizens' jury to evaluate the various rapid transit options and make a recommendation, a position with which he said the Premier feels "comfortable".

Eisenberger said, "My ask at the end of the meeting was, 'Are you comfortable with me saying this publicly?' and the answer was 'Yes'."

Premier Wynne More Vague

But Premier Wynne was more vague in her press conference after the meeting.

According to Globe and Mail reporter Adrian Morrow posting on Twitter, Wynne said, "We have said all along that we are committed to build the rapid transit in Hamilton."

Asked specifically whether rapid transit means LRT, Wynne demurred, saying "There has been a back-and-forth in Hamilton about what that rapid transit will be."

You can read a full transcript of Premier Wynne's remarks on The Public Record.

'Unequivocally' Committed to LRT Funding

In a subsequent press conference at City Hall, Eisenberger reiterated that Premier Wynne had committed to LRT "unequivocally".

The Public Record has posted a video of the conference:

Eisenberger said, "On the transit funding side, the Premier - as well as Minister Del Duca, we met shortly thereafter - both confirmed their commitment to 100 percent capital funding for LRT." He made air quotes when he said "LRT".

City Manager Chris Murray, who also attended the meetings with Premier Wynne and Transport Minister Del Duca, backed up Eisenberger's assessment of what happened.

According to Murray, "I think you captured what we heard. I think the Mayor has captured what we heard at both meetings. [...] In terms of the question that Council has asked for many months, 100 percent funding for the capital costs of B-Line LRT, we heard that that is the plan."

When reporters noted that the Premier seemed to be backpedaling, Eisenberger said, "I was in the room, Chris was in the room, my chief of staff [Drina Omazic] was in the room. It was clear, it was unequivocal. I asked her multiple times, the answer was the same each and every time. I asked the same question of Minister Del Duca and the answer was the same: fully committed to 100 percent funding for LRT."

What is Going On?

So what is going on? For years now, the Province has refused to give Hamiltonians a straight answer about whether their oft-repeated commitment to full capital funding for rapid transit will apply specifically to LRT.

Mayor Eisenberger's comments today after the meeting seemed to lay that uncertainty to rest finally, only for Premier Wynne to cloud the issue all over again.

There are a few possible explanations for the discrepancy between their statements:

  1. Mayor Eisenberger and Chris Murray are wrong, and Premier Wynne and Minister Del Duca did not actually commit to full capital funding for LRT.

  2. Premier Wynne and the Ontario Government are sowing uncertainty about LRT funding in the hopes that Hamilton's leaders lose their nerve and the LRT plan collapses.

  3. Premier Wynne knows that Mayor Eisenberger wants to establish a citizens' jury, and she doesn't want to be perceived as prejudicing the city in favour of a particular option (i.e. LRT).

All cynicism about provincial politics aside, option 3 has a lot going for it. It assumes good intent on the part of the various participants, it is consistent with this government's historic reluctance to interfere with municipal issues, and it demonstrates a hard-won caution and reservation about making funding commitments after the past several years of turmoil over rapid transit planning in Toronto.

Eisenberger acknowledged that his citizen jury proposal "opens the door to all transit. And they were comfortable with that. Certainly, as you know, my hope is that LRT rises to the top as the higher order, higher value transportation system for the City of Hamilton."

So it is entirely possible that the reason Premier Wynne won't say "LRT" is simply that she wants to let Hamilton's citizen jury process unfold without interference.

However, it would have helped immeasurably for the Premier to just come out and say that, rather than forcing Hamiltonians to keep stirring the tea leaves.

More Details

According to Eisenberger, he also heard today that the Province wants to see the B-Line LRT connected to the new James Street North GO Station currently under construction. The Mayor suggested a spur line could connect the east-west LRT to the station, which is several blocks north of King Street.

James Street North GO Station under construction
James Street North GO Station under construction

This makes a lot of sense, since the James North GO Station will eventually be servicing Hamilton with all-day, two-way train service along the Lakeshore West line, and the Province has stated that electrifying its GO Train network is one of the Government's top priorities.

It is not clear what impact that additional route design would have on the cost or timeline of the system.

The Mayor said Premier Wynne and Transport Minister Del Duca did not go into specifics around the actual cost of the system. They "have said they don't want to put a number on it because it may go up or down depending on what the design costs are."

According to the 30 percent functional and detailed design work the City submitted to the Province in 2013 under the Rapid Ready LRT plan, the cost to build the system was estimated at $811 million, though staff noted that they may be able to reduce that price through value engineering.

Eisenberger said he hopes to have more details on the timeline of the rapid transit funding within the next two or three months.

Eisenberger also said the Province recognizes that Hamilton is looking to invest in LRT proactively rather than in response to a traffic congestion crisis. "They quite understand that it is not predicated on a congestion issue, although we can get out ahead of that if we do it sooner rather than later, but predicated on the economic uplift that comes with the higher order transportation."

Murray and Eisenberger were asked what was different from this meeting compared to the meeting last summer with former Mayor Bob Bratina and Minister Del Duca. Murray responded, "The one thing that's different is that what I heard was straight from the Premier's mouth. So, I've never attended a meeting before where a Premier had expressed exactly what I heard this morning."

"The Mayor said it and I'll say it again. It's the question that Council's been asking for some time: 'Will the Province fulfil its commitment to 100% funding for LRT?'"

Eisenberger joked, "It's because I'm persuasive." He went on:

According to the Premier, the words the she used are they remain committed to 100% capital funding to LRT. You know, in their mind, they've never varied from that opinion. Minister Del Duca did indicate some vagueness when he came here last time. It was much more specific and clear today. I'm not going to surmise the change other than, the election's passed, we have a new term of council, they have a new mandate, and it's a good time to clarify some of the issues that have been vague and uncertain, and now's the time, I think, that we certainly need clarity, and they need to provide clarity as well. So I think it just all came together today.

Except the summary of today's meeting being communicated by the Mayor and the Premier still don't quite come together.

Again, I really want to believe that the Province is acting in good faith and that they have a legitimate reason to continue refusing to come out publicly and say they will fund LRT. However, if they are just being prudent there seem to be less confusing ways to go about it.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 26, 2015 at 21:25:25

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce just issued the following news release related to today's meeting between Mayor Eisenberger and Premier Wynne to discuss LRT funding:

Hamilton, ON, Jan 26, 2015: The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is highly encouraged by today's announcement by Mayor Fred Eisenberger that the Province of Ontario has committed to funding 100% of the capital costs of a light rail transit system in Hamilton.

The project is expected to run along the B-Line corridor with further discussions on an additional link to the new James St North GO Station. The funding is a portion of the approximately $15 billion in funding allocated to the GTHA for projects as part of their Big Move Strategy.

"The Chamber and its membership applaud the leadership shown by Mayor Eisenberger and Premier Wynne in championing a project that will completely transform this historic city and form the foundation of Hamilton's future economy," said Keanin Loomis, President & CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. "Our LRT Task Force believes in the strong business case behind LRT, but most importantly we have faith in the future of this city, especially if we act boldly to accelerate our revival."

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and its membership have had a long-standing interest in the LRT file. Comprising private businesses, business improvement areas, public sector institutions, three Hamilton City Councillors, the Hamilton-Halton Homebuilders' Association and the Realtors' Association of Hamilton-Burlington, the Chamber established its LRT Task Force in early 2012 to:

  • Provide a business assessment of the B-Line LRT project that the City has been advancing;

  • Provide input and perspective on funding options for the project; and,

  • Develop and execute a government relations and community engagement plan in support of the project.

Through subsequent meetings the LRT Task Force comprehensively evaluated available academic and government research. Two documents in particular - the City of Hamilton's Rapid Ready Report and The North American Light Rail Experience: Insights for Hamilton study from the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics (MITL) - greatly informed the LRT Task Force's ultimate determination that there is a strong business case for the B-Line LRT project in accelerating economic revitalization of Hamilton.

In its last meeting in April 2014, the LRT Task Force and Hamilton Chamber Board of Directors endorsed a letter to the Minister of Transportation reaffirming its support for the B-Line LRT system. The Chamber will continue to work with the City of Hamilton, especially Mayor Fred Eisenberger's proposed Citizen's Panel on Transit, to advocate for the project.

Established in 1845, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is the definitive "Voice of Hamilton Business". Representing over 1000 members and 75,000 employees, it champions the interests of ethical, free enterprise by effectively engaging business, community, and government leaders in the promotion of the long-term economic prosperity of our region.

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By J (registered) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 21:42:10

The headline should be: "province commits to 100% LRT funding" and now it's time to hold them and council to this. Eisenberger has now set the momentum for this to happen; we can either quaver that the message wasn't strong enough or go out and demand our councilors restate their unanimous support for fully funded LRT now that it's unequivocal.

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By AndrewMuller (registered) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 21:49:35

I think it is more likely that the province is acting on good faith than that the City is. We need concrete action from Council showing that it will approve, fund and implement meaningful projects to improve Public Transit in the City, especially on the B-line corridor. Otherwise the province would be crazy to give us money.

Comment edited by AndrewMuller on 2015-01-26 21:49:58

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 22:56:39 in reply to Comment 108451

It was the City's plan in the first place, approved unanimously by Council to send to Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation as a funding request. What's more, a strong majority of the current council are on record as supporting the current B-Line LRT plan provided the province guaranteed 100% funding. The Mayor says he has secured that commitment.

I still think Council want to do this, and that those expressions of support are mostly genuine. (Two important potential swing votes, Lloyd Ferguson and Scott Duvall, reiterated their support--conditional on capital funding--to me today by email).

I think today was a landmark day. Not the end of the matter, but the beginning of a next phase.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted January 26, 2015 at 21:49:40

Maybe we should build the LRT along Barton so that it hooks up better with the new Go station.

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By hmmm! (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 18:23:54 in reply to Comment 108452

that's not a terrible idea!

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2015 at 11:30:52 in reply to Comment 108452

Barton could use a lot of benefits that an LRT could bring over the long term, but it would be much more painful to combine cars and an LRT there, unlike on Main-King. I think Barton will still indirectly benefit hugely from a Main-King LRT.

For JamesNorth GO station, we can start the "A-Line" spur to connect to the GO station in the north.

For Confederation GO station -- that's Hamilton's 2nd GO station -- it's extremely close to Eastgate Square, so we can just build another 1.5km of B-Line LRT to reach it. Hamilton's 2nd GO station will be built before the LRT is, as Metrolinx already purchased the land for the parking lot opposite side of Centennial Parkway from Walmart. (Guesstimate: 2017 for Hamilton's 2nd GO station).

Then we'll have a transit loop connecting both of Hamilton's GO stations!

P.S. The GOtrain layover (overnight parking for GOTrains) for Hamilton JamesNorth is actually located in Stoney Creek at the under-construction Lewis sidings (2-4 trains for now, enough Metrolinx purchased land to eventually park up to 8 trains) -- so this is a pretty firm Metrolinx long-term commitment to include Confederation into all-day Hamilton service because it's "on the way" to JamesNorth, for parked GOtrains.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-01-27 11:35:47

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 23:01:33 in reply to Comment 108452

Speaking to the Globe & Mail today as he left the meetings with Wynne and Del Duca, the Mayor stated that the province's encouragement was to build a spur--essentially a new branch route--from the B Line to the James North station. And the commitment appeared to be there (appearances can deceive of course, especially in third-hand reports) to fully fund the capital for that line too.

I suspect that this could be done so that there was a route down James North, probably with a station halfway, to James North GO and then go along Barton St., past the hospital, possibly with more stops, to the storage yards planned for Wentworth at Shaw. This idea I first heard from John Neary on Twitter and I love the idea; it eliminates the need for the separate spur down Sanford that the city was considering, to connect to the yards.

Comment edited by Tybalt on 2015-01-26 23:04:08

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2015 at 11:45:54 in reply to Comment 108457

If you wanted to avoid running on Barton itself, just across the tracks there's a narrow strip of green-space along Strachan and Birge along the CN rail line (but outside of the CN R.O.W.), which would be easier to get out to that storage yard.

You could make this spur the the A-line, but going in the other direction.

So the A-line could run up James, along Strachan/Birge (the crossing between Wellington and Ferguson would be tricky). Run along the North side of Birge until Victoria. Or Barton, if that works for Barton Street. Anyhow, at Victoria you have your spur out to the storage yard. Birge probably works better for this although there are spots where it might push into the CN ROW. Either way, we've got our HGH stop here (full disclosure I work at HGH).

Then go straight down Victoria and up the escarpment via the Claremont access (which has plenty of room for LRT). Then it's Upper James all the way out to the airport.

You'd have to let Wellington take over as the unified access to the Claremont, meaning it would need 2-way conversion. Wellington would get pretty congested, though, since it would be doing triple-duty as the bi-directional access to Claremont and Burlington Street as well as providing a bypass around the pedestrian-only zone of King through Hunter and Cannon.

So the bottom of the Claremont would need some rejiggering to move the down-bound auto-traffic to Wellington, and you'd need to figure out how to cross the CN tracks between Ferguson and Wellington if you did the Birge alignment vs Barton... and there's 2 houses on the South side of Birge that you'd have to ask a really tough question about, plus Jackie Washington park is going to get chewed into a bit. But otherwise it would be a much easier project than the current A-line plan that involves a complete obliteration and reconstruction of the entire length of James Mountain Road.

James North would be uselessly congested so it would just make sense to give up and declare it pedestrian-only, but James North could handle that.

So, King/James up to the James North Train station, then over to Hamilton General Hospital. Make a stop at the Mary street so that it's not a complete waste for the folks who live/work around there. Then up Victoria all the way through out to the airport. End the line at the Mountain Mall for phase 1, then phase 2 is going all the way out to the Airport.

Boom. A-line that services the HGH, hooks into the storage yard, and doesn't require boring a hole through the escarpment.

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By LRT proposal (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 08:16:41 in reply to Comment 108457

I think the LRT should go from King to Up Wellington to Barton, then to the GO station and come back down To King again. That solves the problem of car access to International Village. Of course, we'd need to convert Wellington to two way.

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By interr0bangr (registered) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 22:58:32 in reply to Comment 108452

I think a small loop that could go to James St GO to Barton Village/Hamilton General Hospital and then back up to King via Victoria or Wellington would be a perfect solution. It would help bridge the ugly gap between James and west entrance to Barton Village plus the insane width on Victoria and Wellington could easily handle a track.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2015 at 11:03:06 in reply to Comment 108456

Running from King up to Barton is the A-line's job. Long term plan is 2 trains.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 23:06:13 in reply to Comment 108456

Or just continue east on Barton to Sanford, eliminating the need for a useless spur up Sanford to the maintenance/storage yard. Either way, it would be awesome to link HGH into the LRT network.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 23:03:53 in reply to Comment 108456

My main concern with looping the line is that you lose all the crosstown speed benefits, and the economic spinoff benefits to a fragile business district in the International Village.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 09:17:06

The city already did a ton of work designing the B line corridor. There's no need to revisit the design, even though some of us (myself included) don't completely agree with it. What we need to do now is support the staff work to date and start telling the province that we are ready for shovels the day after pan am closes. No more delays please!

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By JustSaying (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 13:12:17 in reply to Comment 108463

I'm only just saying because of the expectation that the LRT connect with the GO trains, also the concern about the lack of lane space for cars beginning at Wellington. I think an LRT stop at Wellington would solve this issue perfectly. It could then continue up Wellington to Barton, go to the new GO station, then continue on Barton until Bay St., come down to King St., and from there continue Westbound to Mac. That way, there are stops at the beginning of International Village and the end of it, which would also be good for the new downtown hospital. Literally a ten minute walk between the two stops, and cars can still access the businesses. Either way, I agree with you. No more delays, lets get shovels in the ground yesterday!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 27, 2015 at 16:33:37 in reply to Comment 108473

Bay St? Not James? You'd want the LRT to completely circumvent the core? That seems like a bad idea.

I could see the plan working with a James alignment, with the condition that once the A-line is started the IV gap on King would be closed and the A-line would take over the northern James North Station / HHS arc.

But then, I work at HHS so I'm obviously a bit biased.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 08:17:12 in reply to Comment 108480

You don't need LRT to go through international village, just close to it so people can walk through (i.e. Wellington). That way we can still have car access through international village which I think is important. Keep A-line RT on James.

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By JustSaying (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 08:14:00 in reply to Comment 108480

There is not a lot of lane space on James. It's easier on Bay where the street is already too many lanes.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2015 at 12:15:13 in reply to Comment 108497

Just close James North to traffic between King and Cannon. It's already so slow it's barely worth driving along, and you'll have room for a nice wide boarding platform at the north side of King and at south side of Cannon - a bit close for LRT stops, but then you can get all the way to Barton before doing the 3rd platform without blocking traffic for platforms. Do the planned 2-way conversion of Hughson so that folks travelling west Rebecca and the like can get around.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 10:13:16 in reply to Comment 108497

But then you entirely miss the city core. makes no sense to me.

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By GDouglas (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 10:47:14

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the LRT. Get the shovels in the ground by next year, please.

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By LRTFan (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 13:49:00

Please please Ryan. Leave well enough alone. Let's not get caught up in the politics and things will work out. If we meddle too much and hyper politicize this we might do more damage than good.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 15:31:54 in reply to Comment 108474

I agree. Let this play out as quietly and calmly as possible. I've always felt that online forums etc do little more than spook politicians into making bad decisions based on the comments of a few people.

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By Shhh (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 18:28:33 in reply to Comment 108477

Hyeah, these uppity citizens wanting to exercise their democratic rights, who do they think they are? Better to sit quiet and trust our leaders to get it right, they're doing such a good job so far.

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By jeffzuk (registered) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 15:31:01

I can appreciate the skepticism coming from all sides on yesterday's news, but I can't see how the announcement isn't anything but positive. Could the Premier have been less equivocal towards LRT in her statement? Sure, but she's reading the tea leaves as everyone else is: that despite repeated commitments from council to a B-Line LRT, the decision is not set in stone and is ultimately Hamilton's (and council's) to make. As mentioned above, Toronto has changed its collective minds several times, each time a new administration came into power. No wonder the Province is gun shy.

Reading the comments of the Spec and CBC, I can see how the FUD on LRT will come from three directions: 1. The Province can't afford $1B and we are all taxpayers; 2. a B-Line LRT doesn't serve the Mountain or outlying communities; and 3. BRT or more buses is just as good and less costly and disruptive. All have counterpoints.

Re-reading http://hamiltonlightrail.ca/the-facts to get ready…

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By Subways! (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 16:12:56 in reply to Comment 108476

You forgot about the Rob Ford argument: We want subways. Hey, Ms. Wynne said rapid transit. There's really only BRT, LRT, or subways. Maybe she wants us to choose subways. Subways anyone? I like subways. Subways.

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By Stan (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2015 at 19:36:39 in reply to Comment 108478

I'd be fine with subways vs LRT if that was the choice as either would be great. So long as BRT is not in the equation.

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