One of the most contentious issues in Brampton in recent decades has been whether to build a light rail line to the city’s downtown terminal. Back in the fall of 2015 Brampton council voted in a 7 to 4 to axe the project and forfeit $400 million in funding from the province.
Prior to 2014 the provincial government announced $1.6 billion in funding to build a light rail project from Port Credit GO into downtown Brampton, connecting the two GO stations. But the last kilometre of the route into Brampton’s downtown became a controversial issue.
Despite the fact that polls at the time found that 70 per cent of Brampton residents were in favour of the project, council voted against the route, halting the LRT at Steeles Avenue with the intention to decide at a later date how to bring light rail further into the city.
Council’s decision also forfeited about $400 million in provincial funding that was earmarked for Brampton’s portion of the project. But, with a new council incoming, the project may not be dead after all.
A New Council
For one, Brampton’s new council will be sworn in on December 3 and a number of new councillors were supporters of the project. Some even delegated to Brampton City Council in favour asking for the route to downtown Brampton to be approved.
If this new council feels so inclined, it could re-open the issue and vote to put the Main Street route back on the table in favour of routes on McLaughlin Road and Kennedy Road.
McLaughlin Road and Kennedy Road were considered in the early stages of the project, along with Main Street and a number of other variations to bring the LRT to downtown Brampton. All routes were ruled out in favour of the Main Street route.
But after voting down the Main Street route the previous council voted back in 2016 to re-examine these alternate routes at a cost of $4.4 million. Studies are still in the preliminary stages and could be halted should it be this council’s prerogative to do so.
The second factor to reviving the LRT is Premier Doug Ford. In a visit to Grimsby on Wednesday to announce healthcare funding, the issue of Hamilton’s LRT came up. It’s been a contentious issue in the Hammer just as Brampton’s LRT was, with their former city council unsure about whether to build the $1 billion project which received a full funding commitment from the Wynne government.
During his campaign, Premier Ford promised to let Hamilton use the $1 billion for other infrastructure projects if their new council decided they didn’t want the LRT, but the city’s new mayor Fred Eisenberger is in favour of the project. Ford says if he wants the LRT the government is prepared to let it happen.
During the press conference Ford said, “If he wants an LRT, he’s gonna get an LRT. I know that it’s a tough issue in Hamilton. That city’s almost split if they want an LRT or not. But I go back to democracy. If someone gets elected, let ’em govern.”
The $400 million for Brampton’s portion of the LRT was off the table after council voted down the route, but politicos often theorized that should a new council win, they could bring the route back on the table, and should the funding ever become available again, the route to downtown could be built.
Brampton has the fastest growing transit system in the country, having seen a 17 per cent increase in ridership in 2017. The city’s connectivity with Mississauga is also crucial — about 70,000 of morning commuters travels to Mississauga from Brampton, even more than the 55,000 that travel to Toronto.
Ford has tightened the purse strings on funding to deal with what he says is a $15 billion deficit, but Brampton’s obvious need for better transit offers a good business case to the province for funding.
But just as much as Brampton’s LRT dreams could be revived, they could also be squashed for good. The Ford Government has been questioned in recent weeks about the status of the funding for the Hurontario LRT project and has remained silent.
Rumours have been flying that the Hurontario LRT is on the chopping block, and the Ford government hasn’t refuted them. NDP MPPs say they have tried to get answers, but the PCs have not been forthcoming.
For now, it’s a waiting game to see what Brampton’s new council decides to prioritize and whether Ford will come to the table to fund Brampton’s projects in spite of his rocky relationship with Patrick Brown. The possibility of a revied Main Street LRT shows more promise than it has in a long time.