EDMONTON – One day after the Alberta budget was tabled, members of Edmonton City Council were feeling slightly more encouraged that support for the southeast LRT project could be on the way.
“We don’t have a $600 million commitment yet, but they seem willing to talk about how we get there,” said Mayor Don Iveson on Friday.
The mayor and several city councillors expressed disappointment after Thursday’s provincial budget did not include any new funding specifically for Edmonton’s Valley LRT Line to Mill Woods.
However, after a discussion with the finance minister Thursday night, Iveson felt more optimistic.
“I’m certainly glad they’re reaching out to us. They’ve heard disappointment in the community and from my council colleagues and they seem to want to work with us.”
“I did have a conversation with Mayor Iveson last night,” said Finance Minister Doug Horner, “and explained to him that we’re looking at a three-year business plan here, but there is a five-year capital plan and there’s a commitment to even go further than that with GreenTrip.”
“I think we’re going to be able to work with the city on how we move forward in the coming weeks and months. I think they’ll be fine,” he added.
Iveson said the project will need strong support in several years, and the province seems willing to help with that.
“They seem to want to work with us on it, but until I have something in writing, I still have no reason to celebrate.”
“The province is committed to working with the municipality – with our city – to make southeast LRT a reality,” said Councillor Amarjeet Sohi.
“They will support this project, that’s the message that was conveyed to us here today, by Minister Hughes, and that was the message conveyed to Mayor Iveson.”
Sohi attended an Alberta Urban Municipalities Association meeting in Edmonton Friday morning.
“But I also understand – listening to the rationale from a couple of the ministers – that LRT is a long-term project – sometimes it does not really fit into a three-year cycle of capital budgets.”
The total cost of the Valley LRT Line is $1.8 billion. The City plans to finance $800 million of that, hopes to get $400 million from the federal government, and $600 million from the province, $235 million of which it feels it can secure through current GreenTrip funding.
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.
Sohi said, leading up to the budget, the city was under the impression new LRT funding would be included.
“The indication from some of the other high-ranking officials within the province led us to believe that there would be a commitment in this budget,” he said. “That is not there, but we will continue to work with the province because they are the partners in this project and without them we cannot build this project.”
“The entire LRT network is in jeopardy if we don’t get a long-term commitment from the province,” he stressed.
In order to complete the LRT project by 2019, Iveson says the city needs a concrete commitment from the province by April 30.
“I don’t think we’ve played the last card on this,” he said.
“There’s still about eight weeks to go before we lose the construction season. So, that’s time if they’re willing to work with us, and it sounds like they are.”