Hamilton LRT contract now likely to be awarded in late 2020

Property demolitions are expected to begin this summer to set the stage for construction of Hamilton’s light-rail transit (LRT) line.

Kris Jacobson, project director for the city, provided members of the general issues committee with a wide-ranging update on Wednesday morning.

Jacobson says the province, through Metrolinx, has spent or committed $171 million to date on the Hamilton LRT, almost half of that to purchase 58 properties along the 14-kilometre east-west line.

He says close to three dozen other full properties must still be acquired.

Jacobson adds that while the city is still proceeding on a “willing seller, willing buyer basis,” he anticipates having to “start the expropriation process,” possibly before the end of this year.

The construction contract is now expected to be awarded in the fall of 2020, one year later than originally scheduled.

Jacobson says three shortlisted teams are again actively working on their bids after the province reconfirmed support for the project and lifted a freeze on property acquisitions back in March.

Meanwhile, a lack of answers about what happens if the LRT project goes over budget continues to frustrate many Hamilton councillors.

There are questions, for example, as to whether the province’s $1-billion commitment, which was originally announced in 2015, is indexed against the cost of inflation.

“It has always been communicated to us from Metrolinx that the funding was in 2014 dollars and that there would be escalation associated with those funds,” Jacobson said.

But Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark insists that city councillors “need that in writing.”

Other questions surround how the province might reduce the scope of the LRT project, which is supposed to extend from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, to keep it within budget.

Jacobson suggests that concern depends on “the magnitude of what a potential overage would be” and that questions surrounding the issue will be answered through the bid selection process.

However, Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge disagrees.

“We don’t have enough information,” Partridge said. “We’re forging ahead like a train running out of control.”

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