Spec­ta­tor colum­nist An­drew Dreschel asks if pro­posed BRT line is a shell game

It’s a po­lit­i­cally smart move lo­cally, but lack of de­tails should ring some alarm bells

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW DRESCHEL An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

Trans­port Min­is­ter Steven Del Duca used an empty HSR bus as a back­drop dur­ing Thurs­day’s BRT an­nounce­ment at the Hamil­ton Go Cen­tre on Hunter Street

But the plat­form the bus was pulled into was ac­tu­ally a des­ig­nated “casino coach” stop.

That made the set­ting dou­bly ap­pro­pri­ate.

At this stage, it’s per­fectly rea­son­able to won­der if killing the James Street LRT spur line in favour of a pro­posed har­bour-to-air­port BRT route is lit­tle more than a shell game.

But even if the change in plans is not a de­cep­tive po­lit­i­cal ploy, at the very least it ap­pears to be a risky propo­si­tion for Hamil­ton tax­pay­ers.

Con­sider: In place of the 2-km James spur es­ti­mated to cost $125 mil­lion, the only firm fund­ing com­mit­ment the prov­ince is now mak­ing is to pay for the “plan­ning and anal­y­sis work” for a 16-km bus rapid tran­sit line.

There’s no de­fin­i­tive time­line for how long that plan­ning will take, though two or three years has been sug­gested. And what’s that go­ing to cost? Per­haps a few mil­lion dol­lars at best.

On top of that, there’s no de­fin­i­tive word on how much it will cost to ac­tu­ally build the BRT line, how much the prov­ince will com­mit to the con­struc­tion, or even who’s ac­tu­ally go­ing to pay for it.

Del Duca said he sus­pects some of the monies from the $1 bil­lion LRT fund will go to “help­ing to sup­port the build­ing of the BRT.” The word “help­ing” as op­posed to “fully fund­ing” should trip some alarm bells.

When Del Duca was asked specif­i­cally if that means cost-shar­ing, he noted the prov­ince has a “clear un­der­stand­ing” with its mu­nic­i­pal and fed­eral part­ners about build­ing tran­sit and that “each level of govern­ment has a role to play.” That should set sirens wail­ing. Any way you slice it, that doesn’t sound like the city is go­ing to get the same free ride as it was get­ting on the cap­i­tal cost of build­ing the James rail spur.

Heck, there isn’t even a guar­an­tee that Hamil­ton will be get­ting a full-blown BRT line with ded­i­cated tran­sit lanes.

Del Duca said it could be a “com­bi­na­tion of ded­i­cated lanes and mixed traf­fic.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think the con­cept of ex­chang­ing the James Street spur for an Aline ex­press bus route that’s a key part of the planned city-wide BLAST bus net­work makes good sense.

Del Duca says the de­ci­sion was made be­cause from a tran­sit, tech­ni­cal and com­mu­nity per­spec­tive, the spur (which was only added to the long-stand­ing east-west LRT plan in 2015) didn’t per­form well given the size of the in­vest­ment.

Re­plac­ing the spur with a BRT line link­ing the Moun­tain and lower city al­lows the prov­ince to ex­tend the ben­e­fits of rapid tran­sit to other parts of Hamil­ton. It’s also a po­lit­i­cally smart move lo­cally. As Mayor Fred Eisenberger rightly points out, the change not only rep­re­sents a “gi­ant leap for­ward” for the city’s long-term ex­pan­sion plans for bus ser­vice, it also ad­dresses po­lit­i­cal and com­mu­nity crit­i­cisms that the LRT project only di­rectly ben­e­fits the lower city. Fair enough. But you can’t help but won­der if killing the spur line is ac­tu­ally a cost-cut­ting scal­ing back of the LRT project with a “pro­posed” BRT line stand­ing in as a sop.

The real ques­tion is, what’s this BRT line go­ing to cost lo­cal tax­pay­ers? Un­til that’s an­swered, it’s go­ing to feel like we’re on a casino coach to a gam­bling re­sort.

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