Spec­ta­tor re­porter Matthew Van Dongen an­swers fre­quently asked ques­tions about BRT

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN mvan­don­gen@thes­pec.com 905-526-3241 | @Mat­tatthes­pec

Why is this im­por­tant?

If both the A-line bus ser­vice and B-line LRT go ahead, Hamil­ton would offer rapid tran­sit along its most cru­cial trans­porta­tion spines. That’s a huge step for­ward on the long-term “BLAST” net­work con­ceived in 2007 that seeks to link the down­town, Moun­tain and out­ly­ing com­mu­ni­ties with rapid tran­sit.

What is BRT?

True “bus rapid tran­sit” is usu­ally de­fined as ex­press bus ser­vice in ded­i­cated, some­times phys­i­cally sep­a­rated lanes. But Metrolinx is leav­ing open the op­tion of creat­ing a “hy­brid” sys­tem with a mix of ded­i­cated lanes and ex­press buses trav­el­ling in mixed traf­fic, sim­i­lar to the ex­press bus ser­vice al­ready on the B-line to­day.

Would these be reg­u­lar buses?

Yes. Or at least, they wouldn’t be “GO” buses.

What is the route?

The pro­posed bus ser­vice will run 16 kilo­me­tres from the air­port to the har­bour.

All other de­tails are un­con­firmed. The map re­leased Thurs­day shows buses run­ning along James Street, up James Moun­tain Road, jog­ging briefly on Fen­nell Av­enue be­fore fol­low­ing Up­per James Street to­ward the air­port. But that route was sim­ply copied from the city’s 2007 “BLAST” map, Hamil­ton’s rapid tran­sit plan of the fu­ture.

The streets in­volved, the num­ber of stops and the Moun­tain­climb­ing ac­cess are all up for study and pos­si­ble changes.

What will it cost?

We don’t know yet. If we end up with true BRT, the cost will be higher be­cause of land pur­chase re­quire­ments, sep­a­rated lanes and even the po­ten­tial need to re­build the road to deal with con­stant heavy bus traf­fic. Metrolinx es­ti­mated the 2008 cap­i­tal costs of BRT on the 14-kilo­me­tre B-line at $218 mil­lion, by way of ex­am­ple. Just putting more buses on the road with pri­or­ity sig­nals, ex­press stops — but no ded­i­cated lanes — would cost less.

Will the prov­ince pay all cap­i­tal costs for BRT?

Not nec­es­sar­ily. Ax­ing the Aline LRT spur should free up $125 mil­lion from the $1-bil­lion LRT bud­get. But if the even­tual A-line cost ex­ceeds the ex­ist­ing LRT bud­get, “var­i­ous lev­els of govern­ment” would have to talk about how to make up the dif­fer­ence, says Metrolinx. Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he is hope­ful the LRT bud­get will cover all cap­i­tal costs. We’re also chas­ing the fed­eral govern­ment for tran­sit dol­lars.

Is the city tax­payer on the hook for any costs?

Who pays the bill on cap­i­tal costs is still up in the air. And the prov­ince has never com­mit­ted to pay­ing any op­er­at­ing costs for rapid tran­sit, ei­ther for LRT or the new A-line project. We don’t know yet how much ex­tra it might cost for the HSR to run more ex­press buses, more fre­quently up the Moun­tain. Also worth not­ing: Metrolinx wants a pri­vate con­sor­tium to de­sign, build and op­er­ate Hamil­ton’s LRT. (The union rep­re­sent­ing the HSR op­poses this plan.) It’s too early to say if Metrolinx will want a de­sign-build op­er­a­tor on the A-line.

When will they build it?

Plan­ning for the new A-line bus ser­vice — in­clud­ing a busi­ness case anal­y­sis, en­vi­ron­men­tal assess­ment and de­sign — will take be­tween two and three years. (Yes, that process will stretch through the 2018 elec­tions.) Con­struc­tion could still hap­pen in tan­dem with LRT be­cause that mam­moth project will stretch from 2019 to 2024.

Why the change?

Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Steven Del Duca cred­ited pub­lic feed­back on the need for bet­ter Moun­tain tran­sit con­nec­tions for the A-line re­vamp. He also ques­tioned the bang-for-buck po­ten­tial of a twok­ilo­me­tre LRT spur forced to run in traf­fic.

Del Duca didn’t bite on ques­tions about whether the A-line spur was less of a pri­or­ity be­cause of chal­lenges in­volved in adding more com­muter train ser­vice to the West Har­bour GO sta­tion. That sta­tion opened in 2015 but still sees only two train de­par­tures each week­day morn­ing.

Metrolinx is try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate more track us­age on the busy rail cor­ri­dor owned by CN, and is work­ing to in­stall an ex­tra track across the Des­jardins Canal bridge to hook up with the West Har­bour sta­tion.

Does coun­cil have to ap­prove this plan?

Not im­me­di­ately. Metrolinx can be­gin the busi­ness case anal­y­sis and route eval­u­a­tion — it’s pay­ing for the work with LRT bud­get money, af­ter all. But at some point, the city will have to weigh in on crit­i­cal de­ci­sions like the form of bus ser­vice (see BRT ver­sus ex­press bus de­bate) and whether it is will­ing to cover cost over­runs if the A-line plan price tag ex­ceeds the amount of money left over from build­ing LRT.

So is this a done deal?

No. There is no guar­an­teed fund­ing, de­sign or even a bud­get, so it’s un­likely the project could go to ten­der be­fore 2019 at the ear­li­est. With a pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion com­ing up in 2018, any­thing is pos­si­ble.

To be fair, even the fully funded LRT project could still be de­railed, in the­ory, if coun­cil were to refuse to sign an op­er­at­ing agree­ment. But that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­likely with more than $70 mil­lion al­ready spent and early coun­cil votes in the bag.

What is the A-line? Or the B-line, for that mat­ter?

The B-line is the Main and King Street bus cor­ri­dor run­ning be­tween McMaster Univer­sity and East­gate Square. The A-line is the north-south bus cor­ri­dor that gen­er­ally fol­lows James Street and Up­per James Street.

They form part of the “BLAST” net­work, oth­er­wise known as Hamil­ton’s long-term rapid tran­sit plan. The L-line is a pro­posed ex­press route to Wa­ter­down, while the S-line would start at East­gate Square, climb the es­carp­ment and head west to An­caster. The T-line would start near the Cen­tre on Bar­ton, climb the es­carp­ment and cross the cen­tral Moun­tain be­fore end­ing near the Mead­ow­lands.

I’m very sad­dened and dis­ap­pointed by the can­cel­la­tion of the (A-line) spur. I thought it was a hid­den prize in the project. COUN. TOM JACK­SON It brings the project to a whole dif­fer­ent level … It’s one step closer to the full BLAST tran­sit net­work that will take into ac­count ev­ery cor­ner of our city. COUN. SAM MERULLA When you’re mak­ing this kind of in­vest­ment, you want to make sure you get it right … I think this re­sponds very well to some of the con­cerns ex­pressed by the com­mu­nity. TRANS­PORTA­TION MIN­IS­TER STEVEN DEL DUCA My big fear here is that we’re tak­ing on too much. We’ve got to do them one at a time and get them right ... Slow it down. Whoa. Let’s fo­cus on LRT … I do have more com­fort know­ing we can’t do this (A-line) project for at least two or three years. COUN. LLOYD FER­GU­SON Any­thing you build, you have to be flex­i­ble enough to ad­just if you find the money you are go­ing to spend isn’t go­ing to pro­vide value. MAYOR FRED EISENBERGER

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Steven Del Duca speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence as Hamil­ton coun­cil mem­bers lis­ten.

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