Special Report: Light Rail

Councillor's Letter to Transport Minister is Reckless Political Theatre

By asking and re-asking the same ridiculous questions that have already been answered, the west mountain councillor aims to sow uncertainty, confusion and skepticism about the project as a whole.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 21, 2016

Poor Steven Del Duca. The Ontario Transport Minister must be regretting ever having agreed to commit full capital funding for Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, given the steady stream of puerile and reckless grandstanding that has followed from a few members of Hamilton City Council.

The latest stunt is courtesy of a certain west mountain councillor, who has posted an open letter to Minister Del Duca on his website in which he demands answers to fatuous questions that have already been thoroughly answered.

We Got LRT Funding Because That's What We Asked For

Ugh, let's get started.

1.) In October 4th, 2016's Hamilton Spectator, Liberal M.P.P. Ted McMeekin, implied that the $1 billion amount earmarked for the City of Hamilton's transit needs was tied directly on it being used for an LRT line through downtown Hamilton. This is in contradiction to what Premier Wynne told CBC Hamilton on May 25th, 2016 when she stated "It's never been LRT or nothing. I really want to hear what council's decision is. I really want to put this to bed."

The Ontario Government has repeatedly explained and clarified exactly what this means, including comments by Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin quoted in the referenced article. The Province agreed to provide full funding for Hamilton's LRT plan because that's the plan we submitted and the plan aligns with the Regional Transportation Plan.

We submitted that plan after the City spent six years studying rapid transit, researching alternatives, engaging in broad public consultation and developing a proposal that is carefully designed to have the maximum potential for success. Between 2008 and 2016, City Council has voted no less than 44 times to move the LRT project forward.

The west mountain councillor must know this, since he has consistently voted in favour of the City's rapid transit planning since the beginning.

The reason Council has consistently voted to move the LRT project forward is that the City has done its homework and come to the conclusion that this is the best plan for transit ridership, economic development and urban revitalization. Absolutely nothing has changed to make a reasonable person conclude that the approved LRT plan is no longer the direction we should go.

The Province has clearly and repeatedly told us that if we had spent the past eight years developing some other plan to submit, that different plan would also have received due consideration. That is what Premier Wynne meant when she said, "It was never LRT or nothing."

It is also clear that she was caught off-guard by the question, since like most reasonable people, she believed the matter to have been settled once the Province agreed to fund the plan that the City had submitted for funding. It's not like they forced LRT on us - we asked for it!

$1 Billion LRT Funding is Non-Transferrable

Moving along:

Does the City of Hamilton have to use the promised $1 billion for this LRT line or can it use the money for what council deems proper for the city's transit needs?

If we wanted to start from scratch today with a new plan, we would lose the committed funding that has been set aside for the current plan. That money would go to other Regional Transportation Plan projects that are waiting for funding.

The Spectator article the councillor referenced quotes McMeekin:

McMeekin rejected the possibility of discussing a new plan for the $1 billion, an idea floated by Coun. Donna Skelly, who recently told the Spectator "informal discussions" were happening between some councillors.

"If Hamilton in its infinite wisdom or folly decides they don't want to do LRT, they lose a billion dollars to another community," McMeekin said Monday. "We're not open to behind closed doors meetings with who-knows-who about who-knows-what."

The member for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale said if the cash is not used for the approved LRT project it goes back into the dedicated rapid transit pot for "reallocation."

Hamilton is free to pitch a different transit project, he said, "but any other proposal would have to start from square one."

This is precisely what happened with Brampton after its Council rejected a plan to extend the Hurontario-Main LRT into downtown.

It would take us at least three years and probably a lot longer to develop a new plan to the point where it is ready to submit for funding consideration, and that project would also be subject to a benefits case analysis to assess its eligibility for funding.

In addition, at least one provincial election and possibly even two elections will have happened by the time we're ready to submit another plan, and we have no idea whether the Provincial Government will still be in the mood to fund regional and rapid transit.

It is remarkably good fortune that we have had a Provincial Government with a steady commitment to regional and rapid transit over the past decade. Far too many times in the past, ambitious plans to build Ontario's transit system have died on the vine because a change in government shifted the priorities before much could get built.

We are in an extraordinary position right now in which all three major parties have promised to honour Hamilton's LRT funding commitment. That means the outcome of the 2018 Provincial Election will not pull the rug out from under us just as the construction is beginning.

It would be unconscionably reckless to throw all that away and start from scratch on the blind hope that the stars will somehow align again the way they have aligned for this once-in-a-generation project.

Not only that, but if Hamilton was to reject the approved funding for the project it spent the past eight years developing and repeatedly submitting for funding, the Provincial Government - no matter which party is in control - would be extremely reluctant to expend any political capital on a city that manifestly cannot get its act together.

Insult to Government that Agreed to Fund Our Plan

The letter goes on:

2.) The above Hamilton Spectator story also implied that any deviation from this line will cause the City of Hamilton to forfeit the allocated money and "go back to the end of the line" for transit. Is the province willing to not fund the transit needs of one of the largest cities in the province because it chooses a different route/mode that it feels will serve its citizens better?

After years of studying, researching and engaging on Hamilton's rapid transit plan under Council direction, city staff developed a plan that Council agreed provides the biggest overall benefit to Hamilton.

The Province agreed, and they committed 100% full capital funding - a very sweet arrangement that other cities like Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo, which have had to contribute local capital toward their rapid transit projects, must be regarding with envy and frustration.

This question is an insult to Minister Del Duca and the Province to suggest that they're foisting a bad plan on us when it's the very plan we repeatedly asked them to fund.

It also completely ignores the hard fact that it takes several years to develop a detailed rapid transit plan, and any large capital outlay must be carefuly assessed by the Province before any funding commitments are made.

It would be irresponsible for the Province to give us a blank cheque and agree to fund whatever Hamilton comes up with. They have a duty to Ontario residents to do their due diligence on any large funding request.

3.) What is considered a "deviation"? If the route is changed on the current proposal is that a "deviation" that will need a whole new process started? What happens if the city decides that it wants only LRT from McMaster to downtown and the rest of the money for rapid bus throughout the city, for example?

This is just question 2 again, stated in a different way. Moving right along...

Project Cannot Go Over Budget

4.) Understanding the province's procurement system, in that once a contract is signed, any amount over budget will be the Consortium's responsibility, what happens if before an RFP goes out the cost to the current proposal is over the $1 billion promised? Will the route/mode change or will the City be expected to contribute money to the project?

The Province has already clarified that if the project cannot be completed within the $1 billion budget, it will be scaled back so that the cost does not exceed the budget. The City will not be required to cover costs that go over budget, as the councillor knows well.

Pattern of Behaviour

The important thing to remember about this councillor is that he doesn't ask questions to get answers. Rather, he asks questions to be seen asking the questions. It's pure political theatre.

The answers don't really matter, which is why he routinely ignores the fact that they have already been answered. By asking and re-asking the same ridiculous questions, he aims to sow uncertainty, confusion and skepticism about the project as a whole.

Most recently, we saw this on display during the abysmal debate over the Herkimer and Charlton bikes. The councillor set the stage with a barrage of ludicrously false claims and then doubled down with an outrageous attack on city staff in which he shamelessly repeated the same false claims and re-asked the same answered questions.

Sure enough, letters to the editor started turning up in the newspaper citing his false claims in angry rants against the bike lanes. Mission accomplished: the councillor's anti-leadership has produced a net increase in misinformation, resentment and cynicism.

The residents of the west mountain - and, indeed, the city as a whole - deserve better than this transparent political gamesmanship.

Text of the Letter

Following is the text of the letter:

Dear Minister Steven Del Duca,

On May 25th, 2016 I requested a meeting with the Premier to discuss the growing discourse in the Hamilton community regarding LRT. I certainly appreciate the government's commitment towards implementing rapid transit in the City of Hamilton and the commitment to improving transit for all. I also want to make clear that I am grateful for the promise of an investment in the City of Hamilton of over a billion dollars and your overall progressive agenda on this file.

There are a number of questions that I wish to gain clarity on. I believe that my council colleagues and the residents of Hamilton are entitled to this information. Your response to these questions will be helpful in moving the city forward to address the significant challenge we currently face in our community. Can you please respond to the following questions:

1.) In October 4th, 2016's Hamilton Spectator, Liberal M.P.P. Ted McMeekin, implied that the $1 billion amount earmarked for the City of Hamilton's transit needs was tied directly on it being used for an LRT line through downtown Hamilton. This is in contradiction to what Premier Wynne told CBC Hamilton on May 25th, 2016 when she stated "It's never been LRT or nothing. I really want to hear what council's decision is. I really want to put this to bed."

Does the City of Hamilton have to use the promised $1 billion for this LRT line or can it use the money for what council deems proper for the city's transit needs?

2.) The above Hamilton Spectator story also implied that any deviation from this line will cause the City of Hamilton to forfeit the allocated money and "go back to the end of the line" for transit. Is the province willing to not fund the transit needs of one of the largest cities in the province because it chooses a different route/mode that it feels will serve its citizens better?

3.) What is considered a "deviation"? If the route is changed on the current proposal is that a "deviation" that will need a whole new process started? What happens if the city decides that it wants only LRT from McMaster to downtown and the rest of the money for rapid bus throughout the city, for example?

4.) Understanding the province's procurement system, in that once a contract is signed, any amount over budget will be the Consortium's responsibility, what happens if before an RFP goes out the cost to the current proposal is over the $1 billion promised? Will the route/mode change or will the City be expected to contribute money to the project?

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely Yours,

Terry Whitehead

Councillor Ward 8

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 JasonL (registered) | Posted October 21, 2016 at 07:35:39

Imagine the insults and lawsuit threats Terry would have been loudly directing to any of his colleagues who had dared try to pull something like this with Red Hill after it was approved.

Not all councillors were on board, but it was approved, an election voted in a mayor who supported it and it was a done deal. The RHVP and Linc only serve certain parts of our city. I know many Hamilton residents who don't own cars and have never travelled on either road. That's no reason not to build it, yet we hear him and Skelly talk about how this phase 1 of LRT will only serve downtown neighbourhoods. They conveniently forget that 3 of the future BLAST routes will serve the Mountain. We'll never get there of course if we don't start somewhere.

The double standard, especially when it comes to inner city neighbourhoods is appalling. We have to listen to Terry whine and whine about possible cut through traffic in Ward 8 neighbourhoods, yet complain that he can't speed through tree-lined residential streets in Durand at 80km/hr. I've never seen someone so consistent at applying a double standard over such a long period of time. Quite impressive really.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2016-10-21 07:36:17

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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted October 21, 2016 at 07:49:30

Wouldn't council be better off spending it's time and energy putting a request together for the Brampton LRT 300 Million? ( I mean, Toronto sure is going after it. )

That way we can finish the B-Line all the way to Eastgate Mall ( Sorry Chad ) instead of using it as a lame duck delay tactic.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted October 21, 2016 at 10:04:17

Wow, it seems some of your Councilors just won't be happy until this project is either cancelled or every possible contingency including site protection from attack by hostile alien spacecraft has been provided, free by the province.

Also, after talking to a colleague of mine who works with Metrolinx I found out that the money (Brampton's $300 Million) is being held just in case there is a serious cost overrun with the remaining section of the Hurontario LRT Line after it has been tendered. This money will be therefore out of play for at the least the next 2 years as the Hurontario Line has already entered this dicey but important RFP phase of the project.

Both the RFQ & RFP processes can lead to huge cost overruns and other financial surprises if cost estimates during the planning process were not accurate and or there has been a recent unplanned increase in the market costs for supply materials and or technology for the line. For example, structural steel can and often does change in cost dramatically several times a week because the price is based on the current supply of virgin steel and the supply levels of recycled steel plus the cost of transport to the project site.

A bad decision in the site location of the projects main project field office and supply storage area can increase the cost of materials because of unforeseen problems in bringing supplies to the site or worse, simply not having enough room to store supplies and having to deliver what could be time critical supplies to a unplanned satellite sites that, may or may not have good enough access by very large supply vehicles.

There was a situation here in Ottawa with the Confederation Line when, a large supply of non segmented ribbon rail was delivered early and there was no room to store it at the main supply storage site. The city frankly just lucked out because nearby there was another planned construction project on city owned land, in a former city works yard (The former Bayview Works Yard and Snow Dump) which was a massive piece of land that was also located right on the planned track right of way. Due to the fact it was a former city works yard, it had by design, easy access to the site by large/overly long supply truck & trailer units, carrying oversized loads.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 21, 2016 at 13:45:02

Love the over-inflated ego that leads off with the sadly unfulfilled request for a meeting with the premier. How many municipal councillors are there in Ontario? And how many get a private audience with the premier?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted October 21, 2016 at 18:58:59

This guy's too much. He acts like he speaks for all of the city, when he speaks for a fraction of it.

  • He can't use the referendum idea to kill it, so he moves on.
  • He vaguely states that they can kill LRT by simple majority on the operating agreement, of which there is no proof (since shovels would be in the ground), so he moves on.
  • He tries to bully staff into backing down, fails, so he moves on.

Now he tries this piece of trash. Stop wasting my tax dollars and GET TO WORK DOING WHAT WE ELECTED YOU TO DO.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2016 at 09:25:57

It seems the pro-LRT advocates want to ignore the elephant in the room! The Liberal's state the project cannot exceed $1B, otherwise it needs to be scaled back? Not one single construction quote has been provided, the 100 year plus underground infrastructure requiring replacement is a total unknown & finally, every sensible person knows this project as currently envisioned will FAR exceed $1B!!!!

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted October 24, 2016 at 17:17:12 in reply to Comment 120303

geez, I wish we knew this sooner. Imagine how much money we could save on every road, highway and transit project in Ontario by not having to hire trained, educated experts. All we need to do is hire some local 'sensible person' to get the same level of expertise.

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By JimC (registered) | Posted October 24, 2016 at 18:02:18 in reply to Comment 120317

9/10 transit projects in the world go over budget (link to study below) but somehow Metrolinx has stumbled on the formula that allows them to correctly predict costs right? Oh wait; many of their recent projects have gone over budget including the Presto rollout, Toronto Union Station reno, and the Sheppard line (which, along with UPX lose money month over month.) Mark my words, the Hamilton LRT will go over budget and the James St Spur will be the first victim of cost overruns. At any rate Jason, you must be the first person in Ontario to call Metrolinx "experts." Pick up a newspaper sometime and see that the TTC Union is suing them for incompetence.

http://torontolife.com/city/gridlocked-incompetence-pandring-baffling-inertia/

http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/why...

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/n...

Comment edited by JimC on 2016-10-24 18:04:35

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted October 24, 2016 at 16:42:38 in reply to Comment 120303

Sounds like a lot of FUD for your resistance there, Bob...

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted October 25, 2016 at 15:59:20

Sorry Jim C, I work in the industry, that's just not true, only about 3% are over budget. You are showing what is the end result of the impression given off by people who don't want a particular project to happen at all or when the press concentrates on a small number of or a single high profile project that very publically, goes over budget. The vast majority of other projects are on time and on budget. You never hear about it because you most likely don't follow all the transit construction projects that go on all the time and a project which comes in on time and on budget doesn't make it to the news.

The problem and answers are found when you look at the real reasons when, why and how projects go over budget. The current crop of TTC projects like the subway extension to Highway 7 in Vaughn went over budget because provincial politicians decided to change the scope of the project (decided the line should go into York Region instead of stopping at Steeles Ave.), which changed the projects timeline (it took 6 years for York Region to decide if they wanted it or not), which then caused a huge increase in the costs of the basic construction materials because the original signed guaranteed prices could not be maintained because the materials agreement had timed out. Large construction projects get price guarantees on materials if they are purchased in a legally defined period. If they go beyond that time the price guarantees do not apply. Especially in an industry where materials like reinforced concrete have been rising in cost, twice the rate of inflation since the mid 1990's and shows no signs of slowing down. Just between 2003-2012 alone, the price of concrete effectively doubled, North America wide! If you put 6 years on to a large construction project like a subway extension you are begging for cost increases. That's why if certain local politicians in Hamilton keep derailing the processes for the B-Line LRT project, forcing votes and re-votes as well as asking for various plebiscites and referendums, especially as the crucial RFQ and RFP process begins (a process which for legal reasons must take between 18-24 months to fully complete) there is a threat of the project budget getting blown and then the project may have to have a cut in scope. All of this not because there was something wrong with the LRT project but because people were to fixed in the past, far too desperate to hold back change in a city that needs change, in a big way.

The new Leslie St. Streetcar barn went over budget because the TTC were forced to openly tender several crucial specific railway/streetcar related sub projects, instead of going to companies they new who could do the job, but were initially not the lowest bidder. Like any openly tendered projects in the public/government domain, they were forced to go with the lowest bidder. Many of these new companies it turned out, couldn't do the job and the cost to fix their mistakes blew the budget wide open. For example, hiring the lowest bidder on the contract to build the connecting track outside on Leslie Street. The main contractor's reputation checked out but its main subcontractor had no experienced staff who could lay streetcar track in an urban environment (insulated and shock absorbed streetcar tracks set in a concrete base that could withstand constant expansion and contraction due to climate). Therefore, the track on Leslie St. had to be done 3 times before it was acceptable to the TTC. Many of these types of rail transit projects only have a small number of contractors and subcontractors who know how to do the job correctly. This is why the TTC rarely would openly tender projects. In the long run, just staying with the group of companies who know how to do this generally makes the overall job cheaper but appears to make it more expensive initially.

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