Special Report: Light Rail

Hamilton Cannot Afford to Delay Light Rail Implementation

We need economic relief, economic development, and jobs now. Not in a year's time, not in three years' time, not in five years' time, and certainly not when the city finds itself able to begin self-funding the rapid transit network, which is likely to be

By Craig Burley
Published October 13, 2016

Hamilton City Councillors are meeting on October 25 in a "General Issues Committee" meeting to debate and decide several issues related to the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, including Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla's motion on whether Council still supports the project to which they unanimously committed a short time ago. Residents of the city who have things to say can send correspondence to their councillors, and to the City Clerk at clerk@hamilton.ca, for inclusion in the correspondence presented to councillors for their consideration before this meeting. The following is a lightly edited version of what I wrote to the Mayor, to my ward councillor, and to my business's ward councillor. (It's not my full thoughts on the LRT project.) Feel free to adopt or adapt my remarks as your own - or, better yet, set down your own thoughts, no matter how short or long - and send them to your own councillor and the City Clerk to ask them to include it in the correspondence. Your voice matters to your city.

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

City Councillors are meeting in General Issues Committee on October 25 to re-re-re-re-re-consider and reaffirm the proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) project as outlined in the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the City and Metrolinx, as approved by Council.

I understand that the desire on behalf of certain Councillors is to renege on the City's commitment to the project as expressed in the MOA; and on behalf of others to delay the project by approximately two years in order to require citizens to re-re-re-re-re-re-consider, via a referendum (technically a "question" on a municipal election ballot), the City's participation in this one billion dollar free infrastructure, jobs and economic development program offered by the Province of Ontario.

The desire for a ballot question is, according to its main proponent, connected to his personal desire to kill the project.

These desires are entirely without reason and should opposed in the strongest possible terms. Killing B-Line LRT would be a policy disaster for this city, greater than any other self-imposed injury ever done to Hamilton.

The proposed B-Line LRT has been so frequently endorsed, reviewed, approved, and reconsidered that I do not really need to present arguments for the project here. I will say only that it is a massive boost to transit in the City of Hamilton as a whole and the beginning of a rapid transit infrastructure that we are decades behind already in building.

My business, Craig Burley Barrister and Solicitor, is located in Ward 2. It is a business I intend to grow along with LRT. Most days, I will be taking LRT to work and back to my home in West Hamilton, which needs this project desperately to ease McMaster University's growth pressure on our neighbourhoods.

No Organized Opposition

I will spare you a review of the many distortions of fact that have been voiced in opposition to the LRT project. They are many, and troubling, but they are for another time and belong to the world of politics, not of policy.

First, let me say that there has been no organized opposition to the LRT project outside of one extremely vocal family. On the other side, there are organization with thousands of public supporters, hundreds of organizations and businesses, and most of the city's many BIAs - including my BIA, the Downtown BIA, which is along the proposed route.

If there were significant opposition outside of a few councillors to the project, there would be reason to re-re-re-re-re-reconsider the project, or to consider (and ultimately reject) a referendum. There is not. Our city's residents and our city's business community desperately wants this project to go ahead.

Key Benefits

Let me reiterate the key findings of City staff's reports on the project.

Cost of Delay

Lastly, in anticipation of the attempt to delay and kill the project via referendum, let me say that the proposed delay to the project - for a public vote will, sensibly, stop project expenditures dead - is unconscionable. Our city is still in long-term recovery from an economic catastrophe it suffered in the 1990s. We need jobs and investment.

The time value alone of the $1 billion investment in LRT, if delayed for two years by Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins's referendum proposal, is $60 million. That's using a fairly low figure of 3 percent, in keeping with our current sluggish economic growth and low interest rate environment.

Broken down further, delays cost us $30 million per year, or $2.5 million for every month's further delay. I don't have that money, the City doesn't have that money and Councillor Collins certainly doesn't have that money.

That $60 million is the real cost of the delay proposed by Councillor Collins. It is money ripped from the city's economy. It is the value of spending those moneys two years earlier rather than waiting. Note that this does not touch the delays in (or abandonment of) local investment caused by LRT uncertainty. Those costs are many millions more, at least.

People who don't understand economics, such as those opposed to the project, discount this factor. Do not do this. The time value of the investment represents a very real (and extremely significant, in dollar terms) impact on this city's economy.

We need economic relief, economic development, and jobs now. Not in a year's time, not in three years' time, not in five years' time, and certainly not when the city finds itself able to begin self-funding the BLAST rapid transit network, which is likely to be never.

Proposed 'BLAST' Rapid Transit Network
Proposed 'BLAST' Rapid Transit Network

We need jobs, investment, infrastructure renewal and better transport. The LRT project does all four without capital cost to us. As Ward 7 Councillor Donna Skelly commented during her bid for election to Council: "the problem is, do you want to turn down a billion dollars?"

I do not. We should not. We must not.

Craig Burley is a tax lawyer in Hamilton. You can follow him on twitter @craig_burley. Comments here are not legal advice.

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