Top LIUNA executive Joe Mancinelli has told Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna that the federal government should support shovel-ready projects like Hamilton’s proposed LRT build as it prepares plans to kick-start the national economy into a post-COVID-19 recovery.
The conversation took place April 2, a week before Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney announced she has asked Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) to review recommendations recently issued by the Hamilton Transportation Task Force.
The task force report keeps the LRT proposal on the table as a preferred option along with a second proposal, for BRT (bus rapid transit) along the same corridor. Mulroney had scuttled the LRT in December citing escalating costs and a month later she appointed the five-member task force with a mandate to recommend how best to spend $1 billion in provincial funds to improve transportation in Hamilton.
“I had a discussion with federal minister McKenna on this very issue about working on a recovery stimulus program,” said Mancinelli, international vice-president for the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
“When this is over they would like to have a number of shovel-ready projects ready to go,” he said, noting their discussion of the Hamilton project. “That could get off the ground anywhere between four to six months. That would be an excellent stimulus project for that municipality…and not only for the province but the country in general.”
The project’s original budget, announced in 2014, was for $1 billion but Mulroney said in her December cancellation announcement it had recently been costed at $5.5 billion including various operating and maintenance costs.
The federal government has never committed to funding the project but in a statement to the Daily Commercial News McKenna’s press secretary indicated the matter is under review.
“Minister McKenna has been in regular contact with Minister Mulroney in Ontario — including again last week after the task force report came out — and we will examine the province’s recommendations and consider their funding requests on an expedited basis,” said Chantalle Aubertin.
In her statement announcing that the report would be reviewed by IO and Metrolinx, Mulroney said, “I am pleased that we are one step closer to ensuring that the province’s commitment of $1 billion in capital funding is invested in realistic and affordable transportation projects in Hamilton.”
The task force, chaired by former Liberal MP Tony Valeri, said its general recommendation is to invest the $1 billion in higher-order intra-city transit “to bring substantial benefits to the current and future residents and businesses of the City of Hamilton.”
Both the LRT project and BRT are higher-order projects that would address the city’s transportation needs in view of current and future demand and congestion, the report explained.
“The LRT option on the B-Line could include the original project scope (if additional capital funding is identified) or a truncated version of the original project as a first phase provided the benefits meet or exceed the benefits of the original project and exceed the benefits of projects on the preliminary list of recommendations.”
Sue Ramsay, general manager of the Hamilton-Halton Construction Association, a long-time LRT supporter, said her association was not surprised that LRT was among the recommendations given that the project has been under development since 2008 and has gone through cost-benefit analyses by many organizations.
“Given the recent announcement by federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna that Ottawa is planning to spend billions of dollars on shovel-ready infrastructure projects, we’re hopeful that the Hamilton LRT could be one of those projects,” said Ramsay.
Between the options, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce sides with LRT.
“After thorough analysis, we’re sure that decision-makers will concur that Hamilton’s long-planned LRT will deliver the most substantial long-term economic benefits for our city,” a chamber release stated.
“The judgment of LRT versus BRT was rendered many years ago after much debate…BRT does not have the same development impact or value uplift as LRT and is not as well-suited for urban environments.”
Mancinelli has said LIUNA would consider financial support for the 14-kilometre, 17-stop project.
“A lot of folks have looked at this project as a rail project and gotten stuck on it as a transportation investment,” he remarked. “This is a huge economic investment. Along the LRT line there are over 20 major developments that are projects, plus the opportunity to dig up the line and replace the infrastructure underneath, the sewers, fibreoptics.
“This is a huge economic development play and that is why we have been very supportive of the LRT.”
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