Don’t let LRT derail city’s renaissance: Bratina
Let’s start with the dysfunctionality that has been the hallmark of our decision-makers
After languishing for decades the City of Hamilton has found itself in an undeniable renaissance marked by rising property values, significant increases in median household incomes, positive articles in the national media and a new-found self-esteem among Hamiltonians themselves.
So what could possible go wrong? Plenty, beginning with the dysfunctionality that has been the hallmark of our decision-makers, city council. In the previous term of council there was near-unanimity in approving the James North Go station, McMaster’s downtown campus and area-rating, to name a few. The stadium debate had dragged on for almost two years but within 60 days of the new 2011 council term we determined the location and filled a $20-million dollar funding gap thanks to the province. The recent and ongoing turmoil surrounding light rail versus other options has created acrimonious division not only among the councillors, but among residents as well. Council has the opportunity to revisit the plan and support transit improvements that could quickly come on stream and benefit the entire city. The current direction will, if implemented, bring an important commercial corridor to a virtual standstill for several years, with a potential for new development that is speculative at best and corrosive at worst. Beyond the transit issues we are seeing a decline in the sense of safety and security in the city, and particularly in the downtown core. We made significant strides in closing the infamous Sandbar drug outlet and Up In Smoke, but pot dispensaries are opening up again in the same downtown district to the dismay of legitimate business owners. Officials talk about a legal “grey area” but my understanding from the prime minister, the justice minister and others is that “the law is the law”. Other cities are cracking down on illegal operations while Hamilton’s are left alone.
It is not lost on anyone who travels around the city that infrastructure remains a significant problem, even before the recent heavy rains and resulting damage. The report card generated every year by city staff gives a “C” to most city assets, even though the annual maintenance shortfall is around $200 million and rising, and previous report cards had given our roads as an example a D minus. I’m not sure how the improvement from D to C was determined.
Hamilton’s financial shortcomings were supposed to have been solved in part by the amalgamation of 2000, but The Spectator has made the following comment: “Even now, bitterness continues over the loss of identity, and many in suburban communities feel their municipal taxes should not be used to fund aging infrastructure and other age-old problems of the old city of Hamilton.” Now we hear a call for veto powers for the mayor which would only further diminish the voices of our suburban ward councillors.
The interests of all would be best served by increased tax revenues from over-serviced and underdeveloped downtown realestate, and all-day two-way GO train service between Hamilton and the GTA. The notion that a light rail transit system running along Queenston Road, Main and King Streets should occupy most of the energy of our city for the next 10 years in my opinion would reverse the momentum we are now experiencing.
The thousands of residents who pass by city hall every day between 2011 and 2014 saw something new along Main and King … construction cranes. We watched the McMaster building, the Federal Building, Bella Towers, Homewood and Staybridge Suites hotels all go up in a just a couple of years. As we speak another crane will rise over a new 32storey residential building at George and Caroline. These projects changed the way many Hamiltonians thought about the city, bringing back its sense of self-confidence lacking for so many years.
Some time ago many progressive voices rejected the “one big project” idea in favour of many smaller ones as the path to rejuvenation. I believe that is still true today and smaller more manageable approaches such as repopulating the core and expanding intercity connections with high frequency rail service will sustain our current momentum as opposed to closing much of the city down for several years with a highly speculative and costly transit gamble.
It is not lost on anyone who travels around the city that infrastructure remains a significant problem MP BOB BRATINA
Gore Park in downtown Hamilton: MP Bob Bratina argues the city’s commitment to LRT is wrong and will harm Hamilton’s relatively recent resurgence.