Major Changes and Unknowns with Hazel McCallion LRT

By Transport Action Ontario | Urban Transit

Feb 08
Hazel McCallion LRT Matheson station rendering (Metrolinx)

Ontario Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria directed Metrolinx to “proceed with the development of an initial business plan along with a strategy to go to market for bids to build both the Mississauga loop and the Brampton extension” in a surprise letter on January 17, 2024.

As with all major transit projects in Ontario, the Hurontario-Main LRT project (now known as the Hazel McCallion LRT) has had its share of drama and twists and turns.  It was approved for funding in 2014 as an at-grade (“urban style”) LRT from Port Credit to Brampton GO along the centre of Huronontario and Main Streets.  It would be largely separated from traffic in its own right of way, except at road intersections and along a segment through Brampton Main St. South Heritage Area.

During 2015, mounting pressure from small but influential anti-LRT groups in Brampton induced its council to initiate a study on other options for Main St, including other routes and tunneling.  Staff found that all options other than a tunnel on Main St. had major technical issues.

The pressure paid off.  In October, 2015, despite staff and public support (including from Transport Action Ontario) for the surface plan, Brampton Council narrowly rejected the surface option.   In response, Metrolinx reduced the project scope to terminate the project at Gateway Station and reassigned the committed funding elsewhere.  Metrolinx also complied with Council’s wish in 2017 to relocate the terminus to the south side of Steeles Ave, in order to maintain the flexibility to use an alternate parallel corridor to Main St in the future.  ( despite identified technical issues!)  

In a complete turnaround, a new Brampton Council voted unanimously in 2018 to affirm a Main St. alignment, with the issue of surface vs. tunnel TBD.  It also requested that Gateway Station be relocated further north to better serve Brampton Transit bus riders. Unsurprisingly, Metrolinx rejected these changes, claiming that procurement was too far advanced to permit changes.

The scope of the project was further reduced in 2019 when the province directed that the expensive (potentially elevated or tunneled) 2.4 km loop at Mississauga City Centre/Square One Mall was to be replaced with a spur. 

A DBFOM (30 years) contract was awarded to Mobilinx Group in late 2019, with a value of $4.6B and a construction completion date of 2024.

During 2020 to 2023, Brampton continued to study the tunnel vs surface options for Main St and took both options to the 30% design stage.  Both options were found to be feasible.  The tunnel option provided better travel times, had less impact to Downtown Brampton and had higher ridership.  But the tunnel route would cost $2.8B versus surface at $933M and take 1-2 years longer to construct.  Council unanimously supported the tunnel option, pointing out that funding the tunnel option would bring Brampton in line with per capita transit investment in other GTHA cities.

Fast forward to January 17, 2024, and Minister Sarkaria’s letter asking Metrolinx to build both the Mississauga loop and the Brampton extension after all.  Metrolinx responded by February 5, as requested, but the plan has not yet been revealed to the public.   

While this is clearly very good news, there are many questions arising from this latest development that hopefully will be addressed in the Metrolinx plan:

  • Which Brampton option will be chosen (surface or tunnel)?
  • Will a second station on the north side of Steeles be included?
  • Will the Mississauga loop be at grade, elevated or tunneled?
  • Will the timing to open the nearly-completed Mobilinx section be affected?
  • What is the cost of these extensions?
  • Will the Transit Oriented Communities program be invoked as another funding tool?
  • Will the municipalities be required to fund portions of these extensions?
  • How much will the federal government contribute to these extensions?
  • What procurement strategy will be followed?

The McCallion LRT project has had many u-turns.  Vast amounts of money and time could have been saved by building the loop and Brampton portion from the start as originally envisioned – a lesson in thinking longer term.  We look forward to smooth sailing from now on.