EDMONTON – Mayor Don Iveson says he’s a little disappointed the province did not allocate any new funding specifically for Edmonton’s southeast LRT expansion in its 2014 budget Thursday.
“There’s no new commitment to transit here,” he said. “(We are) not in a position to celebrate anything today.”
The City of Edmonton has secured commitments for all but $365 million for its $1.8 billion Valley LRT Line to Mill Woods. The City expects $150 million to come from the federal government, and was hoping to see the remainder of the money come from the province.
As late as Wednesday, during his State of the City address, Iveson made a personal plea to Premier Alison Redford for LRT funding.
“Madam Premier, never has the opportunity and timing to fully build out Edmonton’s LRT network been more worthy of your government’s leadership, commitment and support,” he said. “Show that you understand the needs of this city in the same way that my council does. Show Alberta’s capital city that we are worth investing in.”
Thursday’s budget outlined a slight increase to funds available to municipalities through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), and a three-year roll out of previously announced GreenTrip funding.
“You are seeing dollars that have been positioned into our cash flow to fulfill the commitment of the second $1 billion,” Finance Minister Doug Horner said of the GreenTrip fund.
“We’re committed to it,” added Transportation Minister Wayne Drysdale. “I’ve talked to Mayor Iveson and he’s advocating strongly on behalf of the City. And he’s told me they don’t need the money in the first couple years.”
But Iveson says he needs a real commitment by the province by April, or he worries the city may lose the federal funding.
“My interpretation of long-term commitment to GreenTrip isn’t just saying ‘we’re going to roll out all the money we announced several years ago by 2019.’ And announce this year’s money like it’s new, when it’s actually money that we’re putting into the NAIT line today, because it’s money that has been announced previously.
“Today wasn’t the drop-dead date for southeast LRT completion by 2019. Really, the end of April is. So we have a few more months to continue discussions with the province on this,” he said.
While he remains optimistic, Iveson showed clear frustration at City Hall Thursday, saying he’s received “mixed messages” from the province over the past several weeks.
“If we haven’t found a way to do it, then we’re going to lose another construction season and the province will have to explain who should be paying for the $60 to $80 million worth of cost escalation, and answer to the people of Mill Woods who have been waiting 40 years for this LRT line.”
A few Edmonton city councillors also expressed their frustrations with the budget via Twitter Thursday afternoon.
Iveson says the city will continue to work with the province to try to find a way to make the expansion possible.
With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News.