Coun­cil­lor calls the BRT A-line plan ‘a joke’

Moun­tain coun­cil­lors ques­tion bus project

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DON­GEN

APROPOSED rapid tran­sit line meant to con­nect the up­per and lower city is not go­ing over well with Moun­tain coun­cil­lors.

On­tario and Metrolinx an­nounced a re­vamp of Hamil­ton’s $1-bil­lion LRT plan Thurs­day that will scrap a two-kilo­me­tre James Street rail spur in favour of adding rapid bus ser­vice to the northsouth cor­ri­dor from the har­bour to the air­port.

The move al- lows the east- west light rail tran­sit project be­tween McMaster Univer­sity and the Queen­ston traf­fic cir­cle to move ahead in­de­pen­dently.

Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Steven Del Duca said the change was based on bang-for-buck cal­cu­la­tions and pub­lic feed­back. “This com­mu­nity … ex­pressed a de­sire for en­hanced rapid tran­sit con­nec­tions be­tween the lower city and the Moun­tain.”

But the re­ac­tions of Moun­tain coun­cil­lors, so far, range from skep­ti­cism to in­dig­na­tion.

“The A-line (plan) is a joke,” said Coun. Terry White­head, who told coun­cil­lors Fri­day he has “grave con­cerns” about the pro­posal.

He also pub­licly ques­tioned why the province or Metrolinx didn’t con­sult with him and other Moun­tain coun­cil­lors about the de­tails of a tran­sit pro­posal serv­ing his Ward 8.

“My con­cern is I’m not sure who is driv­ing the bus,” said White­head, who also sug­gested he would hold a press con­fer­ence Mon­day to share de­tailed con­cerns about the evolv­ing

$1-bil­lion rapid tran­sit plan for the city.

City man­ager Chris Mur­ray said he would re­port back to coun­cil with more in­for­ma­tion about the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process, but added city staff “don’t dic­tate” to Metrolinx, which is in charge of the provin­cially funded project.

White­head’s com­ment prompted an in­cred­u­lous re­sponse from Coun. Sam Merulla, who put for­ward a mo­tion last year ask­ing for ex­pe­dited im­prove­ments on the A-line in tan­dem with lower city LRT work.

“It was unan­i­mously ap­proved by coun­cil, and, in fact, Coun. White­head sec­onded the mo­tion,” Merulla said.

“I’m not sure how he was un­aware of that.”

Ward 7 Coun. Donna Skelly asked city man­ager Chris Mur­ray why no cost or fund­ing de­tails came with the an­nounce­ment.

“Do we have any idea if we’re go­ing to get any fund­ing for this?”

Skelly fol­lowed up later to say she was con­cerned project plan­ners have so far made three ma­jor changes to the rapid tran­sit plan “with­out coun­cil or pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.”

The Moun­tain coun­cil­lor said she con­tin­ues to be­lieve the province should can­cel LRT and rein­vest the cash in city­wide tran­sit and bat­tling the in­fra­struc­ture back­log.

Del Duca said Thurs­day he ex­pected some of LRT bud­get cost sav­ings an­tic­i­pated from ax­ing the James Street rail spur would be avail­able for the A-line BRT. But the province did not com­mit to cov­er­ing all cap­i­tal costs and an es­ti­mate was not given be­cause there is no de­sign yet for the bus ser­vice.

Mayor Fred Eisen­berger has ex­pressed hope the $1-bil­lion LRT bud­get will also pay for the A-line bus ser­vice, which he called a bet­ter fit for the city.

But Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jack­son ex­pressed dis­may about the loss of the A-line rail spur, which he con­sid­ered a “gem” in the LRT plan. He also said if the BRT plan re­sults in the ad­di­tion of ded­i­cated bus lanes on Up­per James, the project could cause a traf­fic dis­as­ter.

Ward 11 Coun. Brenda John­son, who rep­re­sents the air­port end point of the pro­posed BRT line, said her main con­cern was the lack of de­tails about fund­ing. “At the end of the day, how will this im­pact the City of Hamil­ton’s tax levy?

Coun. Terry White­head has “grave con­cerns” about the plan.

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