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
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.