Hamilton MPP calls on province to get LRT back on track

 

Hamilton's own Andrea Horwath was in the city Friday (August 7) to call on the provincial government to recommit to building the long-awaited and debated LRT.

The provincial NDP leader appeared alongside several local politicians in Downtown Hamilton Friday to speak to the appearance of a heavily redacted report that seems to undermine the province's main justification for abruptly cancelling the project back in December 2019.

Back then, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney claimed that an independent consulting firm pegged the cost of the project at $5.5 billion -- far beyond the original estimate of approximately $1 billion for Hamilton's LRT, plus operating costs once the system was up and running.

It was the report, compiled by Turner and Townsend, that the province used to justify their decision to nix the project that, at the time, had already seen more than $180 million sunk into it.

The province committed $1 billion towards the project, a chunk of money that is still promised to the city for the development of transportation.

"When Doug Ford and his government decided to axe the LRT, they flushed hundreds of millions of dollars that were already spent down the drain -- along with new opportunities to create jobs, build more affordable housing, help in the climate crisis battle, and generate billions of dollars in economic activity," Horwath said in a statement.

"Now, our post-pandemic recovery needs jobs and economic stimulus more than ever -- and according to the federal government, the LRT is the only major public infrastructure project that's shovel-ready in Hamilton."

This week, the Hamilton Spectator reported that after obtaining the report, of which approximately half was redacted, none of the costing estimates added up to $5.5 billion.

The provincial NDP also obtained the document and came to the same conclusion.

"The government claimed this report backed up their numbers. From what we can tell, it doesn't," said Horwath in a press release.

"Was the Ford government just making stuff up again to justify cancelling this critical project?"

At a press conference on Friday, Premier Doug Ford was asked about Hamilton's LRT and given the findings of the Hamilton Transportation Task Force, and in support of COVID-19 economic recovery, should the project not just proceed as planned.

"We had experts go in there and it is $5.5 billion. Unequivocal," Ford said.

"I guess it's up to the mayor of Hamilton to ask the people of Hamilton: 'Do you want your taxes to go up?'"

Hamilton's LRT project had been years in the making. At City Council, the project passed dozens of votes across various administrations and millions of dollars were spent in acquiring property to accommodate the project and in early construction.

A report completed earlier this year by the provincially appointed Hamilton Transportation Task Force, whose mandate was to determine how the $1 billion in provincial funds could best be used to improve transit in Hamilton, determined that an LRT or BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system would be the best use of money.

For now, the Transportation Minister minister and her office are reportedly still reviewing the task force's findings, though there is no word when a decision will be made.

"People deserve answers - but far more than that, Hamiltonians deserve an LRT," Horwath said.

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