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Hamilton officials reviewing LRT costs

by Kevin Werner

Metrolinx has asked Hamilton officials how much the municipality is willing to contribute to help pay the cost of the city’s nearly $1 billion light-rail transit system.

Corporate Services General Manager Robert Rossini confirmed Metrolinx sent city officials a request last week asking how much money Hamilton could contribute to the transportation project. The request also inquired how much money Hamilton has set aside for the project.

Rossini said in 2008 dollars the LRT would cost $830 million. He said officials will need to review the overall cost of the system as it stands today and into the future.

The request prompted city officials to begin a thorough analysis of the cost of the LRT, and Hamilton’s potential contribution.

“We haven’t had anything from (Metrolinx) before,” he said. “This was an unexpected email.”

Rossini said officials will also examine what other municipalities, such as Toronto, York and Waterloo, are doing to fund their own transit projects. He suspects the request from Metrolinx has something to do with the province’s 2011 budget and possible announcements in the spring.

Ian McConachie, media relations and issues specialist for Metrolinx stated in an email “Metrolinx has made no request to the City of Hamilton to contribute to the LRT / BRT.”

A few months ago Metrolinx’s chief executive officer Bruce McCuaig said the crown corporation is looking at a model to assess municipal plans, creating a priority list of next steps for cities based on need and readiness.

Former mayor Fred Eisenberger soon after created what he called a “SWAT team” of community leaders that would lobby senior government officials to secure between $850 million and $1.5 billion in funding for the LRT. Eisenberger promoted the LRT over a less expensive bus rapid transit system because it would encourage more urban redevelopment and improve property assessment.

Rossini said a strategy will be developed that will be reviewed by the city’s senior management team. A report for council, including how much Hamilton may have to contribute to the cost of the LRT, will be available to politicians in early next year, said Rossini.