Hamilton to set aside $7 million for Red Hill investigation — to start

The city will commit $7 million — to start — toward a judicial investigation into the Red Hill friction fiasco that council’s lawyer has warned could stretch over two years.

Last month, city council voted to ask a Superior court judge to probe the circumstances behind the discovery of a troubling safety report on the collision-prone Red Hill Valley Parkway that had somehow been hidden for five years.

On Monday, city lawyers recommended the city set aside $7 million for the inquiry as an “initial allocation.”

But they also warned it’s impossible to predict a final price tag for an open-ended investigation that could conceivably stretch over two years. The city’s external lawyer Eli Lederman has warned such an inquiry could range in cost from $2 million to beyond $10 million.

For example, a Mississauga judicial investigation into mayoral conflict-of-interest allegations stretched from late 2009 to October of 2011 and cost $7 million. A probe of Toronto’s early 2000s computer-leasing scandal ended up costing $11 million.

Council debated different options for an independent probe into the buried Red Hill report before settling on the judge-led inquiry, which is a more public process that involves hearings and witness testimony.

The inquiry will focus on the surprise reappearance of a 2013 friction test showed the parkway appeared to be more slippery than the Linc. Since the report was buried, more than 200 collisions with injuries — and four fatal crashes — have occurred on the Red Hill.

An award-winning Spec investigation in 2017 also showed twice as many crashes on the Red Hill compared to the Linc over five years.

Lederman helped city lawyers “scope” a list of questions about the friction fiasco the city would like the yet-to-be-appointed judge answer through the investigation.

A selection includes:

• who knew about the hidden mystery report and why was it not publicly disclosed?

• was there negligence or misconduct associated with the decision to keep the report hidden?

• were drivers put at risk by the withholding of the report? Did that decision contribute to collisions in intervening years?

• did separate provincial tests support or refute the findings of the city’s hidden friction report?

Councillors will consider the legal recommendations at a meeting Wednesday.

More to come.