Stakeholders involved in Hamilton, Ont.’s on-again, off-again LRT project are increasingly saying all the right things to get the project to the starting line.
Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney, federal Minister of Infrastructure Catherine McKenna and LIUNA executive Joseph Mancinelli have all issued statements in the past 10 days indicating support for some variation of the $5-billion endeavour Mulroney’s government rejected in December 2019.
“Things are kind of aligning perfectly to where we thought that they would be in order to get the Hamilton LRT off the ground,” said Mancinelli, international vice-president and regional manager of Central and Eastern Canada for LIUNA (the Labourers’ International Union of North America). “I think they’re at the point right now, we have all of the ingredients for this to happen, except one thing and that is for both provincial and federal governments now to get together and figure out how to move forward.”
On Feb. 5 Mulroney indicated the province was prepared to spend $1 billion on the project and urged the federal government to pledge its own funding. A ministry release suggested with federal funding plus the provincial allocation an LRT line could be built from McMaster University past downtown to Gage Avenue or beyond.
Mulroney said the province is now identifying the Hamilton LRT project as a fifth priority transit project along with the Ontario Line Subway, Scarborough Subway Extension, Eglinton Crosstown West Extension and Yonge North Subway Extension projects.
McKenna recently offered a rationale explaining why Hamilton’s LRT build stood out as among the most viable of several in line for funding from a Feb. 10 federal pledge of $5.9 billion in immediate stimulus funding for shovel-ready transit projects.
“We’re not there yet, but we remain committed to working with the city, the province, LIUNA and other partners to get the public transit Hamiltonians deserve, creating good jobs and helping people get around in faster, cleaner and more affordable ways,” McKenna said Feb. 16 in a statement to the Daily Commercial News.
“I supported the project from the outset on the basis that it is up to the local community to determine public transit that best meets its needs.
“Also, LRT is the only project that is shovel-ready at a time when we need good jobs and as we build back better to build cleaner and more inclusive communities.”
Mancinelli said the union is prepared to be part of a one-third, one-third, one-third partnership with the two levels of government in conjunction with other private-sector partners. He said LIUNA’s infrastructure arm, Fengate, is currently working with the two levels of government separately in an attempt to pull together a possible P3 deal that could see $3 billion or $3.5 billion spent on construction of a line that would extend a full 14 kilometres to Stoney Creek to connect with Niagara-bound GO trains, as originally planned.
Or, said Mancinelli, an initial deal could see parties agreeing to build a first phase from McMaster to downtown Hamilton and a second phase to Stoney Creek.
Mancinelli said he does not see the City of Hamilton putting money into any deal, but it could encourage the project with investment and permitting incentives.
LIUNA would not want the “box,” Mancinelli said — revenues from fares — but “give us some breaks along the developments along the line, then we could leverage a better return on some of the future developments that go on throughout the line.
“We’ve had these discussions with all levels of government, and they seem to like what we’re saying. Again, we’re not at the finish line.”
There is urgency to get the project back on track after over a year on the shelf, Mancinelli said, because times have changed and costs are escalating.
“With the discussions we’ve had with the province and with the feds, I feel pretty confident that there is a deal in the making,” said Mancinelli. “It’s just a matter of getting all the right parties together and moving it forward because you know sometimes when you’re dealing with different levels of government there’s a certain degree of inertia.”
Mancinelli said the Hamilton community has to rally behind the project and recognize the spinoff effects of building the LRT.
“Moving on from the idea that it’s just a rail line and this is a big economic development project that will represent billions of dollars of construction work but will also leverage hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxation dollars going to all levels of government,” he said.
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