Doug Ford, the newly-elected leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party and brother of the late, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, has publicly promised to honor the $1 billion commitment of the current Liberal government to the Hamilton LRT project, should he become Premier in June 2018.
The announcement came as somewhat of a surprise, given Ford’s (like his controversial brother’s) anti-light rail transit statements in Toronto, where he was a City Councillor. A realistic explanation might be that Ford is merely trying to pick up votes in the Hamilton area.
That said, the continued waffling of certain Hamilton Councillors regarding the project, plus the open hostility of a former Councillor running for office on the Progressive Conservative ticket, is a significant cause for concern. In addition, if Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, a staunch LRT advocate, is not re-elected, this could be a major game changer.
Of course, the LRT is a Metrolinx (provincial) project, which theoretically should be unaffected by local politics, especially that some C$65 million has already been invested in it. However, if a new Council bails out and withdraws its approval, the project might be cancelled, as happened in Ottawa about 15 years ago.
Another major issue could be the Operating and Maintenance Agreement that must be signed at some point between the city and Metrolinx. The local transit operator, Hamilton Street Railway, has been concerned about potential revenue losses when the LRT replaces parallel bus lines, the system’s busiest, on King and Main Streets. On the other hand, the displaced buses and drivers would be reassigned to other routes, avoiding the need for additional purchases and hires for a certain period.
In the meantime, preliminary work continues. Metrolinx will be releasing a Request for Proposals (RFP) this spring, and will award a DBOM (design-build-operate-maintain) contract early in 2019. Construction would start next year, with a planned opening by 2024.
Expropriation and purchase proceedings have already begun, involving several buildings on King Street East that must make way for stations. These include a small apartment building, a bowling alley and a smaller office building.
The Hamilton LRT project has faced a rocky journey from day one, largely due to parochial, self-serving Councillors, and widespread misunderstanding about costs and perceived construction upsets among some of the local populace.