Final vote on Brampton LRT extension still a year away; council indecision brings hefty bill for taxpayers
Those were the words protestors hurled at members of Brampton council in the early morning hours of October 28, 2015.
City Council, led by former Mayor Linda Jeffrey, voted against the provincially funded LRT route running along Main Street and through Brampton’s downtown core in a special council meeting at The Rose Theatre. The venue was chosen to accommodate the crowd of residents waiting for a final decision on the future of transit in Brampton. For those wanting the extension, it was a night of disappointment.
When Mayor Patrick Brown and councillors voted to reverse this decision years later, LRT supporters likely looked on with relief. Since that vote, there has been nothing but delays and more waiting as staff go through the process of studying the future routes. Last month, residents were encouraged to learn that the EA process was nearing completion.
But now, staff are recommending that Brampton move forward with further studies on two potential options for the Main Street LRT route (the tunnel and surface option) at an additional cost of $650,000 to the taxpayer. Staff recommended moving both routes to the preliminary design and draft environmental report phase (ERP).
“The project team is recommending to change our process and move both of these preferred options forward to the next phase,” Doug Rieger, director of transit development, shared.
Patrick Brown has pushed for a tunnelled LRT option since being elected.
(Image from the City of Brampton)
The current council directed staff to update the environmental assessment (EA) in 2019 and consider the possibility of an underground option, a one-way loop along Main Street and George Street, or the surface route that was originally cancelled in 2015.
According to the City’s website, a preferred option was supposed to be finalized this year and the design process started before the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) is completed. The Provincial assessment examines the environmental effects of public transit projects.
Throughout discussions members of Council voiced their support for the tunnel option, and a motion put forward by Brown saw an amendment specifically stating this was the route councillors preferred. This led City Councillor Charmaine Williams to question why the City was moving forward with two options in the first place if it appears council has already made up its mind. “I guess I'm left a little confused as to why we would spend that large amount to do both,” she said.
Taking both projects to the preliminary design phase will cost taxpayers a total of $900,000. Alex Milojevic, general manager of Brampton Transit, said council needed to add an additional $650,000 for the project.
Brown’s motion specified the City start advocating for funding for a tunnel option and the discussion outlined if this option does not get funding, the surface route option will be on standby. “I don't want to waste the efforts on the other work that's been done,” Brown said.
A virtual open house looking for resident feedback showed a slight preference for the tunnel option as well; 54 percent of respondents stated they preferred the underground option and 46 percent showed a preference for the surface route.
City Councillor Jeff Bowman took issue with the timeline, worried that council could potentially run out of time with a municipal election next October. He asked City Clerk Peter Fay to explain what decisions council can make when they enter lame duck status, restricting the actions that can be taken during an election year. Fay said this happens when less than three-quarters of current members of council register to run for the next election, putting restrictions on what council can improve.
Bowman raised concerns any further decisions made on the extension could be out of council’s hands if the preliminary design is delayed. Milojevic said the design will be completed by “approximately June of next year.”
There are benefits and disadvantages with both alignment options, Rieger explained, and putting them through the preliminary design phase will paint an accurate picture of any issues associated with the project, allow for more consultations, and will narrow down the cost estimate. “All of this information will help further differentiate between the two preferred options.”
The City told The Pointer the design phase sees the plan “defined in more detail with appropriate cross sections,” and the ERP examines all the environmental impacts of that design. “The draft EPR will include all the engineering and other reports completed to complement the preferred designs,” the City explained in an emailed response.
The LRT extension study area.
(Image from City of Brampton)
The one-way loop along Main and George was disqualified early on and staff came up with five surface routes and two tunnel options. Metrolinx’s Preliminary Design Business Case (PDBC) was used to assess the options, looking at the economic, financial, and deliverability cases around the two options.
Rieger explained Metrolinx, a Provincial entity, uses PDBCs to move projects forward and towards potential funding, but noted other factors the PDBC doesn’t examine, such as potential economic growth, need to be taken into account.
Neither option stood out in the business case. The surface option scored better on total costs and value for money. The tunnel option scored better on travel time, pedestrian conditions, and operational costs. Early estimates put the surface option costing $253 million and the underground option $1.43 billion. The City has no funding for the project at this time.
Both extension options are broken down into three segments.
Segment A of the surface option and tunnel option are the same. Both will have two stations and run from Steeles Avenue to Nanwood. A rendering from the City shows the LRT will be in its own lane and bike lanes will be installed.
Segment B of the surface option has one stop, and will continue onto Wellington Street. The lanes will be reduced to four; the LRT will have its own dedicated lane and cycling will be done in mixed traffic. Segment C is the narrowest point of the extension; the LRT will be in two lanes of mixed traffic all the way to the Brampton GO station.
Segment B and C of the tunnel option will be underground, have one stop each, and three and two lanes of traffic, respectively. Bike lanes will run through the entirety of the underground extension.
Staff will study two potential routes in the preliminary design and draft environmental report phase.
(Image from City of Brampton)
Taking both projects to the preliminary design phase will continue to delay permanent beautification plans for the Four Corners. The first promises for improvements were made in 2011 and in 2018, after years of planning, Downtown Reimagined was set to go ahead. Deteriorating water and sewer mains would be replaced and the streetscape would be upgraded. The project was cancelled when Brown was elected and any work that will be completed now has to take the LRT into consideration.
The situation has become so dire the Region has pushed to complete interim work on the water mains that are at a “high risk of failure” and overruled a push from Brown to have this work delayed again to complete plans for the LRT. A report the Region presented last year stated the temporary work will be overhauled once a final decision on the extension is reached, to deal with the design of gas and hydro lines, along with other factors, calling it “economic throwaway.”
The City voted to complete interim efforts while the Region moved ahead with its work, but with options like painting lamp posts and changing old light bulbs, some councillors were not impressed.
The two options Brampton City Council has to decide on doesn’t provide any more clarity to the region. Milojevic said it “won't give a definitive answer to the region of what approach we take.”
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