Re­ject­ing LRT now a his­toric mis­take for Hamil­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - Opinion -

Is this re­ally the LRT elec­tion? That’s what many are say­ing, in­clud­ing some can­di­dates. We have so far re­sisted call­ing it that be­cause it sells the rest of Hamil­ton’s agenda short. Yes, LRT and its place in Hamil­ton’s long-term tran­sit strat­egy is im­por­tant. But is it re­ally THE is­sue?

What about ur­ban in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion? Tax rates? Eco­nomic devel­op­ment? In­fras­truc­ture in­vest­ment other than tran­sit? Safe streets? Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion? Affordable hous­ing? Ur­ban bound­aries? Re­tail mar­i­juana sales? The fact re­mains, many be­lieve LRT is it.

We have a se­ri­ous may­oral con­tender whose en­tire cam­paign is built around stop­ping LRT. There is strong lob­by­ing and ad­vo­cacy on both sides. So, let’s talk LRT. Some things to con­sider:

• Light rail tran­sit is not an is­land: It is a key fea­ture of the city’s tran­sit mas­ter plan, called BLAST. The B in BLAST refers to the B line, which is in­tended to pro­vide rapid tran­sit from the city’s east to the west. Since LRT was first sup­ported by city coun­cil, it has been en­vi­sioned that light rail would be the spine that con­nects BLAST. In any case, the plan calls for rapid tran­sit on the B line, and ex­press buses, pro­posed as an al­ter­na­tive by some, are not rapid tran­sit.

• The Ford fac­tor: Most mem­bers of coun­cil sup­ported LRT when they be­lieved it was all or noth­ing — take the province’s $1 bil­lion or watch it go some­place else. Then Doug Ford came along and said the money would be avail­able for tran­sit-re­lated in­fras­truc­ture. Then Ford’s only Hamil­ton MPP, anti-LRT Donna Skelly, said it was just in­fras­truc­ture. But don’t worry, the money will be there, she said.

Of course, Ford also promised he wouldn’t kill the Ba­sic In­come Pi­lot Pro­ject, at least un­til the ev­i­dence was in. Once he was elected, he thought noth­ing of break­ing that prom­ise with a smile. He promised to in­vest in men­tal health. Crick­ets so far. He promised to fix hall­way medicine. Now his health min­is­ter says hos­pi­tals have to be­come more ef­fi­cient. Does any­one re­ally be­lieve Ford and Skelly will keep the door open to the $1 bil­lion if Hamil­ton kills LRT and then has to go back to the draw­ing board, which could take years? Has any­one heard the old maxim about a bird in the hand?

• The po­lar­iza­tion fac­tor: Yes, LRT is po­lar­iz­ing. Many in­cum­bents and can­di­dates are against it. Many are for it. But let’s look at some of the in­sti­tu­tional sup­port for light rail in the city. There’s Hamil­ton’s cham­ber of com­merce, the lo­cal re­al­tors’ as­so­ci­a­tion, the home builders’ as­so­ci­a­tion and the con­struc­tion as­so­ci­a­tion. Then there are Hamil­ton’s anchor in­sti­tu­tions, which in­clude school boards, Mo­hawk and McMaster, both hospi­tal sys­tems. En­vi­ron­ment Hamil­ton. ArcelorMit­tal Do­fasco. It’s fair to say that no other pro­ject in re­cent mem­ory has had such broad, mul­ti­sec­toral sup­port. Are they all wrong?

And let’s not for­get money: City hall re­ports many devel­op­ment pro­pos­als now ref­er­ence LRT as a selling point. In Kitch­ener-Water­loo, LRT has al­ready proved a suc­cess in draw­ing $2.4 bil­lion in new build­ing per­mits along the cor­ri­dor.

Imag­ine what a com­pa­ra­ble in­vest­ment would do for Hamil­ton’s econ­omy. And the anti-LRT crowd wants to is to turn that down? That would waste the $105 mil­lion that has al­ready been spent, and would be an epic mis­take.

Does any­one re­ally be­lieve Ford and Skelly will keep the door open to the $1 bil­lion if Hamil­ton kills LRT and then has to go back to the draw­ing board, which could take years?

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