The late-stage expansion of the Hurontario LRT could add a “couple of billion” dollars to the project’s final price tag, according to Ontario Premier Doug Ford who spilled the financial details to a business and political crowd in Mississauga.
In late January, Queen’s Park directed provincial transit agency Metrolinx to urgently prepare a business case that would lay out how to add two extensions to the Hazel McCallion LRT, already under construction in Mississauga.
The changes were to take the line north into Brampton and to revive a loop around downtown Mississauga axed during the Ford government’s first term.
“Ontario has received the initial business case,” Premier Ford told the Mississauga Board of Trade on Thursday. “I can confirm we’ll be moving forward with this important project.”
While Infrastructure Ontario agreed to an initial $4.6-billion contract with a construction consortium to build and run the 19-kilometre line in 2019, the cost of extending it has not been released by the government.
The Ministry of Transportation declined a request to release the business case for the two extensions drawn up by Metrolinx.
“Our plan will connect the people of Mississauga, Brampton and surrounding communities so that people can spend less time commuting and more time at home, doing what matters most,” a spokesperson for the ministry told Global News.
Speaking in Mississauga on Thursday, however, Ford let slip that the additional stations could be in the billions.
“I’m going to spend a couple of billion dollars more to make sure that we do the loop,” Ford told the board of trade audience during a fireside chat.
It’s unclear whether the “couple of billion” would cover just the 3-stop downtown loop or the entire expansion
Downtown Mississauga loop
Part of the initial plan for the light rail route through the heart of Mississauga was a three-stop loop around Square One Mall, through the city’s downtown.
In 2019, Metrolinx announced it would cut the loop from the project due to “budget pressures,” reducing the route from 22 to 19 stops.
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Roughly three years after it was cut, at a press conference in early 2022, Ford suggested he was willing to reverse the cost-cutting measure. He said the loop would be re-added “eventually” in an off-the-cuff remark.
“My finance minister and president of treasury are probably shooting me through the screen for saying that right now, but that’s our goal to make sure that we finish the loop,” Ford said.
The Ford government’s January request for Metrolinx to re-start work on the loop they previously cut from the project marked the formal start of that work.
The City of Mississauga welcomed the news the project would be moving forward in a statement on Thursday, saying it would support the growth of homes and jobs in the downtown.
CAO Shari Lichterman said the city was “very pleased” the loop was set to return to the project.
Construction of the route in Mississauga, including around the downtown area, is already well underway. The line was due to be finished in 2024, though the government’s project page no longer lists a completion date.
The initial designs for the LRT under the former Ontario Liberal government proposed the new line would run from Port Credit in the south into downtown Brampton, connecting the local GO Train station.
In 2015, however, local Brampton councillors rejected the proposal, telling Queen’s Park they weren’t in favour of the line through downtown, leaving it to terminate at Hurontario Street and Steeles Avenue.
Years of controversy on council over alternative possible routes followed, with the city under Mayor Patrick Brown favouring a tunnelled light rail extension through its historic downtown. Until January, there were few concrete indications the province would listen to Brampton’s new request.
On Thursday, the province confirmed the extension would bring the light rail route into downtown Brampton along Main Street. The extension will run four kilometres north of its originally planned terminus at Steeles Avenue and Hurontario Street.
The extension is now set to terminate around the downtown Brampton GO station — recently renamed Brampton Innovation District GO.
The area it would serve includes Brampton’s historic downtown, city hall and an Algoma University campus.
The addition of the Mississauga loop and the downtown Brampton extension came at the same time as another major infrastructure announcement for the area.
At the Mississauga Region Board of Trade, Ford announced the government would pursue a dedicated rail line on a route from downtown Toronto to Milton.
The new infrastructure would allow for two-way, all-passenger service on the route, which is currently owned and operated by freight rail.
As part of the move, the Ford government penned a letter to its federal counterparts asking Ottawa to pick up half the cost of the new railway construction.
“We need a cost-sharing partnership with the Government of Canada to build a fully separated passenger rail line … estimated at over $6 billion,” Ford told the business crowd.
The announcement raised suspicions from Ford’s political opponents who suggested the transit announcement is linked to the Milton by-election.
“Absolutely no question this is related to the fact that they have a by-election coming up,” said NDP Leader Marit Stiles. “They’re concerned and they should be because people in this province are unhappy with this government.”
Questions about whether the government policies are linked to the Progressive Conservative’s political fortunes went unanswered by the Premier’s Office.