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A transit route over the escarpment

First step taken toward LRT down Upper James

by Kevin Werner

As city officials cross their fingers for provincial funding to help fund a light-rail transit system across Hamilton, plans are underway for another transit route from Hamilton Airport to the waterfront.

In the first of what could be many public meetings, city officials presented an outline of a projected transit route from the Hamilton Airport, along Upper James, over the Niagara Escarpment, along James Street to the waterfront.

About 25 people turned out to the Mountain Arena to hear, examine and talk about a presentation by city officials that provides a preliminary idea of what a new north-south transit system would look like and how it would impact the surrounding community.

Jill Stephen, director of rapid transit, said the plan at this point doesn’t include decision on a bus rapid transit system or a light-rail transit system.

“We haven’t got to that point yet,” she said.

It is also unknown how much a north-south line will cost taxpayers.

But the idea is for the new transit system to impact the immediate neighbourhoods, creating a pedestrian-friendly system by incorporating recreation, residential and retail access throughout the line.

Still, there remains a number of obstacles for a possible light-rail system for the A-line - if it is affordable and manageable - which is the preferred funding project for the city’s estimated $830 million east-west B-line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. For instance, there is the question of where would a light-rail system travel over the Niagara Escarpment? Options include using the Claremont Access, which Stephen said is more suitable for a lightrail system.

She did say there would be no tunneling through the Escarpment to accommodate any transit system.

Stephen said the idea is to make the new transit system affordable for all people so they can leave their cars at home. It is unknown how much fares will be.

Over the next few years she hinted that using a car in Hamilton will become more expensive, through higher parking rates and fuel.

“We want people to use (transit) and make it accessible for all,” she said. “We want to keep the fares affordable.” Hamiltonians remain supportive of investing in a new transit system,

including light-rail, even though it is more expensive than a bus rapid system. A new transit system, stakeholders have said, builds a stronger community, spurs economic development and will make boost Hamilton’s image as being a “bold” innovator. Still, there are obstacles to investing in transit, including overcoming the community’s car-centric policies, and redeveloping Upper James and the mountain area, which transit proponents say has become too car-oriented.

The A-line’s opportunity and challenges study is expected to be completed in September, about the same time as the preliminary design for the B-line, said Stephen.

Further public sessions held by the city will continue next month, with public information sessions scheduled for Jan. 19 at the Scottish Rite on Main Street, Jan. 25 at Westdale, and Jan. 25 at Sir. Winston Churchill high school, and Jan. 27. A location has yet to be determined. All meetings are from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

A public workshop on the B-line plans is scheduled for Jan. 11 at the Hamilton Convention Centre from 6 to 9 p.m.