Special Report: Light Rail

Enormous Cost to Reject LRT

Fear and divisiveness may lead us to refuse a billion-dollar investment in our city and delay our rapid transit plans for another generation.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 03, 2017

A Councillor has been urging residents to speak out if they have concerns about the Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) project. Well, I have very serious concerns about this project.

I am increasingly worried that fear and divisiveness may lead us to refuse a billion-dollar investment in our city and delay our rapid transit plans for another generation.

Almost ten years ago, I helped found Hamilton Light Rail, a residents group advocating for the Provincial government to honour their 2007 election promise to build two rapid transit lines in Hamilton.

I was present in 2008 when Council, on the basis of staff reports, voted unanimously to pursue the B-line LRT "with full provincial funding of the capital costs".

At the time, 100 percent funding seemed like wishful thinking, but staff worked hard to build an excellent project with broad economic, environmental and social benefits. Council encouraged and extended this work through dozens of unanimous Council votes. Metrolinx studied Hamilton's LRT project and agreed that it will have a significant net benefit for our city.

We built an excellent rapid transit plan.

Hamilton's hard work finally paid off two years ago when the Premier came to Hamilton to announce full funding of the direct capital costs. I saw many Councillors there in McMaster's Convocation Hall cheering loudly at this vote of confidence in our city!

This is Hamilton's project.

It will boost our economy, improve our tax base by focusing development in already-serviced areas and allow residents to move around easily as our city grows. It will directly generate thousands of well-paid construction jobs over the five-year construction period and thousands more after completion. It will boost our image as a competent city that can successfully see a large infrastructure project through to completion.

Council have received an unprecedented letter from ten anchor institutions expressing their confidence in LRT and its benefits for Hamilton. Together they represent 75,000 jobs and 138,000 students - 40 percent of Hamilton's total population.

This should be a good news story.

Unfortunately, two years after getting what we asked for, some people are becoming nervous and fearful.

They are worried about disruption. They are scared because they don't yet know every detail about the project. Some are trying to go back ten years and question whether we even need rapid transit.

Council voted just over a year ago to work in "good faith" with the Province to implement LRT. The Province has already spent or committed $70 million because Council said they wanted to build LRT. Major stakeholders, including McMaster University and many small and large businesses, have made serious investments and strategic decisions because they have taken Council at its word.

To back out now would not only be extremely wasteful, it would ruin Hamilton's reputation as a business partner whose word can be trusted.

It would cost the City a $1 billion external investment, and leave Hamilton taxpayers on the hook for paying back the $70 million the Province has invested, more than $300 per household. It would destroy the morale of staff who have put their heart and soul into this project because Council asked them to.

The cost to our community would be enormous, now and in the future.

I urge Council to reject fear, be the ambitious city once again, and see this project through to completion: we are rounding the final corner! Future generations will thank you.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2017 at 17:21:45

Complains about those trying to sow fear; does exactly that by instilling fear of a financial penalty if we reject LRT.

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By AP (registered) | Posted April 03, 2017 at 18:20:00 in reply to Comment 121050

When it's based in unequivocal fact, it's not called fear, it's called reasoned decision making.

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By Inhocmark (registered) | Posted April 04, 2017 at 21:19:43

Where is the $70 million figure coming from? I've seen it bandied about but I can't find a primary source or a report that specifically says the City would be on the hook. I believe we are, but in I'm not seeing something that comes right out and says it.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 02:05:42 in reply to Comment 121083

The $70 million figure was reported by staff at a Council meeting in the Fall. Paul Johnson (the City's LRT project leader) confirmed last week by email to me that this is still the current figure.


Since this money was spent on the basis of several Council votes to work with Metrolinx to build LRT (including a formal Memorandum of Agreement to work in good faith to implement LRT) the City would be breaking its contract with the Province if it backed out now and liable for the costs the Province has already spent or committed. Ottawa and Toronto both had to pay back money after cancelling LRT projects after the work was already underway. Toronto is on the hook for over $85 million.


Comment edited by kevlahan on 2017-04-05 02:06:11

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By Inhocmark (registered) | Posted April 07, 2017 at 08:09:09 in reply to Comment 121085

Thanks. I had seen a lot of that and the assumption our position on repayment would be the same as Toronto, but no direct confirmation from Metrolinx or the province.

I have no doubt that the likely scenario would be we'd be on the hook for the repayment but as it stands now, opponents still technically can make the claim that the repayment is still up in the air.

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