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LRT debate heats up at Hamilton council

Dena Fehir
LRT debate heats up at Hamilton council
The proposed Hamilton light-rail transit project is causing a stir at Hamilton City Hall with councillors debating whether to review previous votes to accept provincial funding. The 11-kilometre lower city rail line and spur route is slated to run from McMaster University to the Queenston Traffic Circle. -

Several delays and a call for a referendum are among the issues facing Hamilton city council members regarding the pending light rail transit (LRT) project.

Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla says he is fuming over a referral motion to postpone accepting $1 billion in provincial funding for the LRT and also roads, sewers, sidewalks and other related infrastructure projects by a month.

"Clearly my attempt to expose duplicity on the LRT support is coming to fruition and I can assure you that I will not be supporting such a weak-kneed delay tactic approach to a complex, transformational, multifaceted city building project," he says.

Merulla, an advocate for enhancing public transit service levels, says transportation and public transit are significant and important public policy matters.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says the project will remain on track unless council formally votes to stop the design work or refuse the $1 billion promised from the province a year ago.

A council vote is scheduled for early June.

Meanwhile Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, a strong opponent of the project, is calling for a referendum on the issue. He claims that in the nine years since the project was first proposed the public at large has yet to have a chance to voice their opinions or concerns.

Other members of council have also shared their views on a referendum.

Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead says he encountered enthusiastic support for a referendum at two recent community meetings.

Ward 6 councillor Tom Jackson says he is not against putting the issue to a public vote.

But Ward 3 councillor Brian Green says the idea of a referendum is "ridiculous" given the funding promised from the province.

The 11-kilometre lower city rail line and spur route is slated to run from McMaster University to the Queenston Traffic Circle. There will also be a GO train service extension from the West Harbour GO station to the new Centennial Parkway station.

The project first started to look like a real possibility in 2007 when the province announced MoveOntario 2020, which essentially fell under Metrolinx, an arms-length provincial body dedicated to building integrated rapid transit throughout the GTA and Hamilton.

The Ontario Liberal Party campaigned for re-election in 2007 with the promise of two light rail lines in Hamilton.

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