City Council is on the right track, correcting previous Council’s politically motivated decisions.
May 20, 2021 (4 Minute Read)
City Council is grappling with several key issues that will have long-term impacts on Brampton’s economic prosperity. Without a decision on whether to locate the LRT on the road’s surface or underneath in a tunnel, other capital projects are greatly impacted.
The tough decisions to be made, are in part difficult, because of the political maneuvering orchestrated by the last term of Council. The former Council attempted to issue downtown contracts worth millions of dollars in order to prevent any future Councils from selecting Main Street for the LRT location.
The Key Issues
There are three primary issues: (1) decaying watermain infrastructure that needs to be replaced, (2) the rehabilitation of downtown (often referred to as Downtown Reimagined), and (3) Light Rail Transit.
What is known is that the current water and sewer pipes in the downtown area has exceeded their lifespan. It needs to be replaced to avoid disruptive watermain breaks during the winter months and overall systemic failure. The responsibility in replacing this infrastructure belongs to the Region of Peel. The City is responsible for determining the road resurfacing.
Downtown Reimagined (or Downtown Revitalized) involves streetscaping (trees and lighting), sidewalk improvements, bike paths, and utility upgrades (hydro, gas and fibre). In specific to utility upgrades, business owners are looking for improvements in order to continue investing or relocating to the downtown area. Business need improved and reliable utilities. This is the responsibility of the City in association with their utility partners. The City has already budgeted and reserved $250 million towards this project.
Finally, the Light Rail Transit (LRT) is required to connect to the GTA public transit network to move people throughout the Region. After considerable consultation and studies (including environmental assessments), city staff recommended a downtown route using Main Street. The previous term of Council removed this Main Street option “permanently”, and directed staff to spend $4.4 million on investigating either McLaughlin Road or Kennedy Road as the preferred options. Then, this term of Council, reversed the decision of McLaughlin Road or Kennedy Road, and reverted back to Main Street as the preferred LRT route option. The province and the federal government have signaled they will fund this project.
All three projects are important for Brampton to complete if they want to prosper in their economic growth. However, if one were to do all three projects separately, you would rip open the downtown core three times, wasting millions of tax dollars, and essentially killing any business located downtown.
No private sector or business would have the common sense of investing in the downtown area until all three projects are completed.
To avoid wasting millions of tax dollars, and to attract and sustain business investment, all projects need to occur in alignment.
The lack of project management in the City is significant. Staff cannot make detailed plans and coordination until Council makes final decisions and receive funding commitments from senior levels of government.
The Required Decisions
First, given that this Council has made Main Street the preferred LRT route, they need to determine if they locate the LRT on the surface or dig a tunnel (which is more costly). If they pick the surface route, then Council will need to determine if the LRT tracks are located in the middle of the street, or offset to one side of the street. In addition, if surface, Council needs to determine if the tracks are level with the road (shared with pedestrians and vehicles) or elevated.
To assist with these decisions, the City has embarked on public consultations and an LRT environmental assessment, with a final staff report on these consultations to be presented to Council in and around September.
Once Council makes a decision, they send their reports to the provincial government for LRT funding approval. As recently evident in Hamilton and Toronto, the provincial government tends to approve funding based on the decisions of the local municipality. The federal government also has a say in funding, but typically relies on the provincial direction.
After deciding on LRT, Council then needs to make a final decision for Downtown Reimagined. Council is expected the receive more information on this project on May 26, 2021. But again, this decision needs to await the decision from the province on LRT funding.
Finally, once Downtown Reimagined has been determined, the Region of Peel can finally replace the aging water and sewer pipes. There is an inherit and significant risk if this infrastructure project does not procced in a timely manner.
Suzy Godefry, Executive Director of the Downtown BIA appeared before City Council and pleaded, “Let’s build downtown for today”. She expressed the struggles of local downtown businesses, “with 13 months of pandemic interruption, followed by 18-24 months of water and sewer main interruption due to construction”.
The Downtown BIA formally adopted a list that was sent to Council requesting:
- Utility upgrades – Hydro, Electric & Fibre
- Safe, level and accessible public walkways, squares and sidewalks
- Soil cell system
- Enhanced streetscape and updated pavers
- Cycling Infrastructure
Downtown BIA Board Member Rick Evans stated, “Start it now…not to be reimagined, but to be real now”, he continued, “Cannot wait another 3-5 years. Don’t worry about LRT”.
Chair of New Brampton, Dave Kapil, also delegated to Council. New Brampton is group of citizens and business people whose intention is to be the catalyst for positive change in Brampton. He agreed with the Downtown BIA, and requested, “You are on the right path…get this done now”. He supported Mayor Brown’s motion.
The Mayor’s Motion
Mayor Brown introduced a motion that directed staff,
To update all required engineering and legal work, and propose a financial plan to begin work on the previously named “Downtown Reimagined” as the first phase of the immediate implementation of the broader Integrated Downtown Plan process (which includes future plans for the LRT in the downtown) and in coordination with the Region of Peel’s timetable for its upcoming infrastructure work;
That a staff plan to meet the Region of Peel’s timetable and coordinate the City of Brampton’s work be presented to City Council, no later than this Spring 2021;
That the City of Brampton commence its work on the immediate implementation (previously known as Downtown Reimagined) of the Integrated Downtown Plan when the Region of Peel begins its work; and
That the immediate implementation of the Integrated Downtown Plan include the upgrade of the Garden Square pavement and fixturing.
At the request of Councillor Doug Whillans, the Mayor’s motion was friendly amended to include the upgrade of the Ken Whillans Square (named after the Councillor’s father, who also served as Brampton Mayor from 1982 to 1990).
In support of the Mayor’s motion, Councillor Rowena Santos asked staff to develop a list of all aspects of Downtown Reimagined that can be completed without disrupting any LRT plans.
As reported by the Bramptonist last week, Public Works Commissioner Jayne Holmes provided a stunning revelation that the previous Council tried to award a tender with no apprehension on how much the project would cost. It was suggested by Commissioner Holmes that the tender was being fast-tracked to handcuff any future Council LRT decisions, “Once you award a tender, you are in a legal position, where you should proceed with that tender. If you try and undo it after you awarded, you would be putting yourself into a situation where you would have legal obligations towards the contractor. If there was going to be some change in thought, for instance on the university or on the LRT, with the new Council, then we would be in a precarious position as it relates to that tender”.
The motion was then discussed at the May 19th Council meeting…see part 2 of this story