Rejecting LRT now a historic mistake for Hamilton
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?