Hamilton, Ont.’s highly-debated $1-billion LRT project is moving forward with council submitting an updated environmental assessment (EA) to the province, thanks to an eleventh hour agreement with the Ministry of Transportation to extend the line by three kilometres.
"To keep this process moving and avoid significant delays, we will add the section from Queenston to Eastgate to the project scope. Our direction is to work with the City of Hamilton to accommodate the extension within our approved funding envelope for the project," said Andrew Hope, Metrolinx director for Hamilton Light Rail Transit. "We will continue to work with our partners and the city and Infrastructure Ontario with the objective of getting the project into market as early as this summer."
However, the promise to end the line at the Eastgate Square shopping mall instead of the previously approved Queenston Traffic Circle does not come with any extra cash from the province.
On the eve of city council’s vote, Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca said in a letter to Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, "Given the funds made available from the removal of the LRT spur, I can confirm that the province will work to add the Eastgate extension to the current project scope and procurement. This would be contingent upon Hamilton City Council support as well as the consideration of available funding to address any additional cost requirements, if necessary. The province will work with the city to explore ways to reduce costs to accommodate the extension within the original project budget."
The 14-kilometre LRT line will run from McMaster University in the west end, through downtown Hamilton along Main and King Street. Hamilton City Council, with partner Metrolinx, are now exploring funding options through saving on other projects for capital to put towards the recently approved extension.
"Metrolinx and the City of Hamilton will work together over the coming days and weeks to analyze the potential impacts of this latest development to our project schedule, EA and budget," said Hope.
One of the possible ways to divert cash from other sources to fund the LRT extension is to take the $100 million to $125 million that was for the now dropped James Street spur to the GO station project and put it towards the LRT extension.
Another is to modify, instead of replace, the Queenston Street Bridge over the Red Hill Valley Parkway, which will reduce costs. These savings can also be put towards the LRT. Recent reports suggest modification is an option that will be further explored by engineers.
"A new bridge can cost between $30 and $50 million, so that is a significant savings that can be used as we move forward," said Eisenberger.
The Hamilton LRT is a signature project that falls under the Moving Ontario Forward plan that will be funded with a $1 billion commitment from the Province of Ontario, announced in May 2015.
It will consist of 17 stops and connections with local Hamilton Street Railway service, the Lakeshore West GO Transit Line and multiple GO Bus routes. Major construction is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be in service by 2024.