Brampton LRT battle begins
Metrolinx proposed a route unpopular with the last council and some residents, but Linda Jeffrey hopes to win them over.
June 22, 2015
By San Grewal
Voices calling for a “made in Brampton” plan for a proposed LRT were growing louder as a showdown over the future of mass transit in the city began Monday. Mayor Linda Jeffrey, however, has publicly said she wants to get the city to accept the route proposed by provincial transit agency Metrolinx - which would require reversing the previous council’s overwhelming 10-1 vote against it.
The proposed LRT has divided the city and its council, with some pushing a light rail system that would run north from Mississauga into the downtown core, while others say it would ruin the area’s heritage district and is too expensive.
At a planning meeting Monday councillors dealt with a report from staff on the Hurontario-Main LRT project, which in April received a $1.6-billion funding commitment from the province, to cover core capital costs. Staff, Jeffrey, many members of the public and the city’s board of trade, which was represented at Monday’s meeting, are in support of the proposed plan, including the route through Brampton suggested by Metrolinx.
Seven of the eight delegations Monday were in favour of the Metrolinx plan. But many of the public correspondences to council were against it.
Meanwhile, many other residents and a group of councillors say too many questions are unanswered.
“What extra costs will Brampton taxpayers need to pay for implementing the LRT plan?” the group Citizens For a Better Brampton, wrote to the Star, ahead of Monday’s meeting. “What costs are covered by Queen’s Park and what costs will Brampton taxpayers still have to pay? Some have suggested that this could be in excess of $100 million.”
Costs such as utility realignment, surface construction, shelters and station upgrades, as well as landscaping and traffic redirection during construction are generally not included in transit funding packages from the province. It’s unclear how they will be covered in Brampton.
Those in favour of the plan say it will revitalize the downtown core, connect Brampton to regional transit and argue that provincial money should not be turned down.
Brampton resident Peter Bailey has taken an active role on the issue in the community. He wonders if the proposed LRT will benefit his city at all. He is urging a “made in Brampton” plan and says the proposed surface route will destroy the heritage character along the LRT’s path into the city’s historic downtown.
“The former Council debated the issue of the LRT surface route coming straight up Main St. and was defeated 10-1, with former mayor (Susan) Fennell the sole supporter,” he stated in an email to the Star before Monday’s meeting. “What did that tell us? Even her closest allies on council failed to back her. Brampton breathed a sigh of relief on that issue and thought it dead in the water.”
A resolution opposing the Brampton surface route proposed by Metrolinx, the province’s integrated transit planning agency, was passed by the previous city council in a 10-1 vote. Fennell was the only one who backed the province’s plan. The rest of council wanted alternate routes explored, which might be more beneficial to Brampton’s heritage district, local businesses and commuters.
Jeffrey has recently pushed for a council stand that would turn around the previous council’s decision and accept the province’s plan. A vote on that plan and the project’s future in Brampton was supposed to happen at Monday’s planning meeting, but councillors and members of the public managed to get it postponed. A binding vote has now been set for a special evening council meeting on July 8.
Under the new mayor, staff have now presented a report that aligns with her views, recommending against alternate routes because of the extra costs and commute times.
Jeffrey will now have until July 8 to use the staff report to convince five other members of council that the Metrolinx plan is the best route forward.
But Bailey and others have questioned how the city plans to cover the local capital costs, ongoing operating costs of an entirely new transit system and how the Brampton LRT, with only a quarter of the stations and distance that Mississauga gets, will be anything more than a way to send Brampton shoppers south into Mississauga.
The chair of the city’s planning committee, Councillor Elaine Moore, who headed Monday’s meeting, said more and more residents are raising legitimate questions. She’s not sure they will be answered by July 8.
“Is an east-west LRT route along Queen St. a better fit for Brampton? What do our own current ridership figures show for the viability of the proposed LRT route? Will people even take the LRT over the GO, especially when we’re lobbying for all-day two-way GO that will hopefully get electrified and have express routes?
“Why would anyone spend twice the time on an LRT going south to Port Credit and then wait to connect from there? And the big one, even with the provincial funding, what is this going to cost the Brampton taxpayer, for everything, if we move forward with an LRT?”
Bailey said he’s amazed that while other municipalities such as Hamilton and Toronto have actively lobbied the province for transit expansion that they had a direct role in planning, Brampton is just accepting a plan it had little involvement with because the city’s previous leadership wasn’t even at the table.
“All these communities presented their transit proposals to the appropriate levels of government and met the required criteria and were successful in obtaining the necessary funds. Mayor McCallion often used the expression, ‘ask and you shall receive’ and she did a lot of asking and it shows well for Mississauga. She suggested Brampton do the same.”