HSR AND LRT: Push to have city tran­sit op­er­a­tors at helm of light-rail line has some coun­cil­lors jit­tery about de­lays

De­lay over HSR ques­tion could put the light rail in the maw of party pol­i­tics

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

As with all things LRT, Hamil­ton coun­cil­lors are di­vided over what im­pact their re­quest to let HSR op­er­ate and main­tain the sys­tem may have on the project’s time­lines.

If the en­treaty causes a ma­jor de­lay in award­ing the build­ing con­tract to a pri­vate sec­tor con­sor­tium, some fear the project will be cast into the maw of next year’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion — a dream sce­nario for LRT op­po­nents.

Lloyd Ferguson, who voted against the mo­tion, sees it as a real “risk” that sends a mes­sage of un­cer­tainty to pro­vin­cial politi­cians and po­ten­tial project bid­ders alike, not to men­tion play­ing into the hands of anti-LRT coun­cil­lors. “In­de­ci­sive­ness is al­ways dan­ger­ous.” Matthew Green, who ex­pertly stick­han­dled the mo­tion through Wed­nes­day’s 9-4 com­mit­tee vote, dis­agrees.

“I don’t be­lieve any gov­ern­ment com­ing in is go­ing to throw this project out the door. We’re too far down the line.”

There’s no ques­tion the spec­tre of the June 2018 pro­vin­cial elec­tion has haunted the project from the start.

Last year, city man­ager Chris Mur­ray even made award­ing the LRT con­tract be­fore the elec­tion one of his per­for­mance goals.

The re­al­ity is coun­cil­lors may be ask­ing Metrolinx to let city HSR work­ers man­age LRT, but ef­fec­tively it’s the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment which will de­cide yea or nay.

As a pro­vin­cial agency, Metrolinx plans, de­vel­ops and pro­vides ad­vice on big re­gional tran­sit projects, but the de­ci­sion­mak­ing re­mains in the paws of the politi­cians who con­trol the purse strings.

That’s why An­drew Hope, Metrolinx project di­rec­tor for Hamil­ton, will soon be con­sult­ing with the prov­ince over next steps, as­sum­ing Wed­nes­day’s vote is rat­i­fied by coun­cil on Aug. 18.

There’s no ques­tion in Hope’s mind the project’s time­lines could be jolted.

Af­ter all, Metrolinx is al­ready screen­ing three ap­pli­cants who are in­ter­ested in build­ing the $1-bil­lion sys­tem based on the orig­i­nal pro­cure­ment model set out in a re­quest for qual­i­fi­ca­tions (RFQ) ear­lier this year.

If the prov­ince ap­proves the city’s HSR re­quest, Hope says an­other RFQ will need to take place, which will take about four months from start to fin­ish.

“The RFQ that went out orig­i­nally was very clear on what the pro­cure­ment model is go­ing to be used for the project, which was to design, build, fi­nance, op­er­ate and main­tain. If we’re go­ing to be chang­ing the model now, it’ll change the com­po­si­tion of the ap­pli­cant teams that are re­spond­ing to the RFQ. You may not have an op­er­a­tor any­more. So we would have to reis­sue the RFQ.”

The cur­rent goal is to se­lect a con­sor­tium by the spring of 2018 and have a con­tract signed by that June. So clearly adding an­other three or four months to the sched­ule might leave the con­tract up in the air when the prov­ince goes to the polls.

But is that re­ally such a big deal any­more? Doubt­less, LRT will be an issue for some lo­cal can­di­dates, but the po­si­tions of the party lead­ers are clear. The Lib­er­als and New Democrats whole­heart­edly sup­port the project and Con­ser­va­tive Leader Pa­trick Brown says he’ll abide by coun­cil’s wishes.

Sam Merulla for one doesn’t put much stock in Brown’s po­si­tion. “Re­gard­less of what peo­ple are say­ing, I don’t be­lieve Brown would be sup­port­ive of a Hamil­ton LRT line.”

Green has a dif­fer­ent take. Some $50 mil­lion has al­ready been spent on the project. By the time the elec­tion rolls around, the to­tal will have jumped by many mil­lions more. Green ar­gues if the Con­ser­va­tives are elected and try to scrap the project, they’d wear it the same way the Lib­er­als did the in­fa­mous gas plant can­cel­la­tions.

Then again, this whole thing could be im­ma­te­rial. The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment may very well tell Metrolinx to stick with the ex­ist­ing pro­cure­ment model and just get on with it. Ei­ther way, let’s hope Merulla is reading the tea leaves right. He doesn’t be­lieve we’ll have to wait very long for an an­swer.

“They have way too much in­vested now. They’re mo­ti­vated. They’re ready to get this thing out and signed, sealed and de­liv­ered be­fore the elec­tion.”

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