Battle shaping up over LRT priorities on Edmonton city council

An Edmonton Transit Service LRT train at the NAIT station in Edmonton, Alberta. November 20, 2015. Kendra Slugoski, Global News

Things are starting to get a little heated at Edmonton City Hall when it comes to LRT planning.

Posturing began when members of council’s executive committee asked for information to help them set priorities sooner rather than later, now that the province has announced plans for a new hospital on Ellerslie Road.

“This is not sitting well,” Coun. Dave Loken told reporters after he perceived LRT expansion to the northwest as falling behind in the pecking order.

West LRT and expanding the Metro Line onto Blatchford are the only two LRT projects on the city’s to-do list that includes putting together a business case for both expansions. Everything else the committee was told is grouped together as having an equal priority.

Coun. Michael Walters asked that new information come in time to be included in a budget update later this fall, instead of the early part of 2018.

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“It’s going to be very difficult for me to be a team player,” he said if the southwest leapfrogs ahead of the northwest in the early going.

“I have to do what I have to do,” Loken said. “If this gets political and I have to fight it out at council, that’s what I’m going to do. In fact, I welcome that. I’m getting a little sick and tired of these sorts of things that come out of left field.”

His solution, although he’s not a big fan of it, is to make Bus Rapid Transit a temporary solution north from Blatchford instead of LRT.

“I cannot go another term or two without delivering something. That’s why I suggested BRT.”

Loken has a backer in Coun. Bev Esslinger, who said that part of the city lacks other facilities like places for seniors, a rec centre, and other amenities. A bridge over the CN rail yards and the Yellowhead is projected to cost between $100 and $200 million.

Esslinger is hoping the cost can be kept down.

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“I’m hoping maybe with the Yellowhead and the LRT project, maybe there’s some synergies we can get it across the railroad tracks and then at least a BRT would be a great idea.”

Building a bridge to link the northwest to Blatchford will be an expensive proposition, said Nat Alampi, the city’s director of LRT infrastructure delivery.

“Because of the length and because of the challenges of being able to physically build the bridge over an operating heavy freight rail yard.”

“CN can’t cease their operations for two years for us to build the bridge, so there’s complexities there in building over top of an existing freight rail operation, which will require additional time and expense to build it.”

BRT before LRT can open more possibilities, especially for that part of the city, admitted Guy Boston, the branch manager of LRT delivery.

“The comment about, ‘Let’s build a bridge over the railroad tracks and call it a BRT so we can move more people across that corridor,’ which is a problem… I mean, 97 Street and 127 Street are your only two opportunities to cross basically in that northwest quadrant. It’s an interesting thought,” Boston said.

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It would even get more traction in a few years if driverless vehicles become in vogue.

“Imagine the LRT corridor, if you will, without the tracks, and its vehicles moving on it, not private vehicles but certainly mass transit vehicles operating on it so that investors still see the station locations as the investment TOD spots,” Boston told reporters. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here with what we’re doing in LRT.”

The committee also looked at early projections of what LRT intersections would need grade separation to allow traffic to flow more freely. That report will go to city council next week for approval.

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