As part of his talk to the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina spoke at length about light rail transit (LRT).
Following is a transcript of Mayor Bratina's comments on LRT:
The Chamber ... has made a clear statement about LRT for Hamilton. Council, on the other hand, is awaiting a comprehensive transit master plan that incorporates a number of modalities including light rail.
But even though the, quote, "The Big Move", the Metrolinx plan, that their documents have suggested that 100 percent funding for the capital cost of LRT, no formal commitment is expected until the Metrolinx funding strategy is released in June.
Despite the suggestion of 100 percent funding, Hamilton has already spent $9 million, including $5 million of our own tax revenues, to prepare our LRT plan, projected to cost $1 billion.
This would make it the most expensive project undertaken by the city, more than double the Red Hill Parkway, and higher than the cost to service the Aerotropolis lands - the estimate in that is over $700 million.
So how can we possibly pay for this? Currently, following on this because I'm not good at math, and Mike Zegarac is here from our finance department and he gave me some, we sort of had to work through rough numbers.
But rough estimate, extrapolated from the $20 billion sales tax collected in Ontario, indicates that for Hamilton, a one percent sales tax increase would produce in Hamilton $100 million a year. If this could be returned to us in full, it would provide us with a real opportunity to address our serious infrastructure deficit and help fund new projects such as transit and LRT.
The public would have to be sold on that tax and the projects. You want these, how do you want to pay for them?
In American cities, things such as LRT are approved and funded through referendums, as just occurred, for instance, in Virginia Beach VA. Taxpayers there approved an extension to their LRT and paid for it by a half percent local sales tax increase.
Mayor McCallion in Mississauga recently stated the need for 100 percent funding for the Hurontario Street LRT.
I spoke to Hazel about this, and she said the project will lose money for several years and require significant costs for operations and maintenance. That's why it has to be, all the capital upfront has to be paid for, somehow, so that on the residential tax base, the ticket sales, the transit sales revenues and so on, could be applied to the operation.
And Hazel said it will be our job, as mayors, to make the case to our residents about the need for this to address the severe congestion problems.
In our case, LRT is presented as an economic development tool, not a cure for congestion, since we really don't see it to any great extent, except perhaps for around the Meadowlands on a Friday afternoon in Ancaster [chuckles], there's a lot of congestion there.
So one of the things I urge everybody to do is download a report that I brought along with me. It's called - and let me just show it to you [gets the report] - The North American Light Rail Experience: Insights for Hamilton, prepared for us by the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics.
The overall conclusion of the report is that light rail transit has the potential to work in Hamilton under the right set of circumstances, but it will be a long, challenging and costly process. And I really appreciate the excellent work that was done, and you can find it and download it, it's online. I even have a couple of copies at my office. But if you're into this subject, you have to read this document.
You can read an RTH summary of the study that was published last August.
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