City Council to vote on LRT report Thursday

In an anti-climatic 106 page report, Hamilton city staff are recommending City Council continue pursuing studies towards the building of a rapid transit light rail B-Line and A-Line in Hamilton – provided Metrolinx funds a portion of the continuing work.

In summary, the status-quo with no final decision to move forward with LRT forthcoming until senior levels of government commit to a funding formula for capital costs.

The report will be considered by City Council during a special meeting on October 13, 2011 (Thursday).

The report states “capital cost of LRT on the B-Line ranges from $875 million to $1 billion.” Assuming senior levels of government fund 50 to 100 percent of the project, the cost to City finances will be $0 to $509-million. The city portion will be debt financed. The City of Hamilton’s present debt is $355 million. Without LRT, it is schedule to balloon to $931 million in 2014 and peak at $1.12 billion in 2019. LRT debt will be in addition to these forecast figures.

The city’s non-LRT infrastructure capital costs will range from $1.8 to $2.4 million. The estimated annual operating cost of LRT is $16.4 to $25.5 million.

Overall, LRT could result in a residential property tax increase of 1.4 to 7.9 percent or $42 to $230 per household. The report suggests the increase could be phased-in over several years.

A final report recommending the type of rapid transit for Hamilton will not be presented to Council until senior levels of government show their funding commitments.

The City will prioritize the planning on James Street and Centennial Parkway in anticipation of all-day GO Service to stations beside the CNR tracks at the northern ends of those streets.

In the short-term, staff are recommending the city lobby Metrolinx for funding to buy more articulated buses to address serious capacity issues on city bus routes. The city needs to complete the work required under the agreement reached when Metrolinx provided $3-million to the city for LRT studies. The report notes that if not completed, the city could be required to return all or part of the $3 million grant.

Most of the work is complete and the rest is scheduled for completion in December.

Senior City staff met with Metrolinx on September 22, 2011. City staff report that during the meeting, Metrolinx staff stated the City of Hamilton is at least two years ahead of other projects competing for funding, and that Metrolinx requires Hamilton decide upon a maintenance storage facility and complete the phasing study before Metrolinx will make a funding decision.

The proposed work schedule for LRT in 2012 is presented as:

An interesting aspect of the proposed LRT line is the stop at McMaster University requiring special mitigation measures to prevent the electromagnetic fields and vibrations from interfering with one of the world’s most powerful electron microscope in the world. (It was the most powerful in 2008 and may still be)

Thursday’s meeting will be revealing of any fault lines that have developed since Council last unanimously endorsed LRT. With no hard decision required Thursday, don’t expect too many fireworks. It’s a status-quo recommendation, that will get likely receive a status-quo unanimous vote.