Hamilton LRT announcement will be for a shorter line

The province is expected to make a light rail transit (LRT) announcement at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, but sources say it will be for a shorter route than the city initially proposed.

The line, which was originally supposed to be 13.5 kilometres from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, will likely stop at the former City Motor Hotel property at 55 Queenston Rd, two sources have told CBC Hamilton. That would mean the planned route would be about 11.3 kilometres.

The announcement is also expected to include money for the Centennial GO station.

Premier Kathleen Wynne will make the announcement at McMaster University, accompanied by Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca and Ted McMeekin MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.

Hamilton has been asking the province to fund full capital funding for an LRT, and used a Metrolinx grant to fund 30 per cent of the design costs. Metrolinx estimates the full cost of building LRT would be about $1.4 billion in 2014 costs.

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The province has set aside $16 billion for transit projects in the GTHA — including, it has said, “rapid transit” for Hamilton. But until now, it has refused to clarify whether that means bus rapid transit (BRT) or LRT.

Mark Cripps, an assistant to Ted McMeekin MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, tweeted earlier: “Tomorrow will be an historic day for my city.”

The announcement will be livestreamed.

In a previous interview, Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the premier told him in January that the province will fund the full capital costs of LRT.

And even though the province has not publicly specified LRT, “LRT is the direction I believe the province is going to go,” he said.

In a statement on Monday, Eisenberger said he is “delighted the premier is coming to Hamilton tomorrow morning,” and that he is “looking forward to hearing about a visionary investment for the City of Hamilton.”

As for the new eastern terminus, the City Motor Hotel was once a hotel known for being a hotbed of crime. The city expropriated the property in 2013 and has finalized a plan to encourage development.

The Queenston circle has been discussed numerous times in LRT discussions. It’s listed in the city’s nodes and corridors study, and as a potential LRT stop in the city’s 2013 Rapid Ready report.

Ryan McGreal, an LRT advocate, says if the province is willing to fund a shorter line and the GO station, that appeases both GO transit and LRT fans.

Phasing in LRT isn’t a new idea either, he said. When Metrolinx did a benefits case analysis, it looked at LRT, BRT and phased LRT, he said.

“A slightly shorter LRT is still orders of magnitude better than nothing at all.”

Tuesday’s announcement will be good news provided the capital funding comes in the foreseeable future, he said.

If the province commits funding, “what becomes problematic is how far out that money will be allocated.”

Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 said he wants full capital funding, but if that’s not the announcement, “we have to play the cards we’re dealt.” The city needs answers in order to move ahead, he said.

“It’s a matter of finding concrete answers from the province and being able to plan accordingly in Hamilton.”

Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4, an LRT advocate and chair of the public works committee, says he wants to see 100-per cent capital funding for LRT on Tuesday, just like council has asked. He also wants to see money for the Centennial GO station and the $300 million council requested for upgrades of the existing HSR system.

Anything less than full capital funding could be a rocky ride, said Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8. Any money the city commits would have to come from some other area of the budget.

“I am not in favour of a major funding announcement where the city has to pick up the tab.”