The City of Edmonton is weighing the merits of an application to extend the High Level Streetcar farther south to Whyte Avenue.
The streetcar, which is run by the Edmonton Radial Railway Society, currently ends north of the Old Strathcona Farmers Market.
But the society has put forward a development application to extend the rail line across Gateway Boulevard then south past 83 Avenue, through the empty lot currently being used by the Sand on Whyte display and coming to a stop adjacent the public bathrooms at Whyte Avenue.
Eric Grotzki, secretary for the Edmonton Radial Railway Society, said the idea was first born roughly six years ago, and the society submitted the application to the city in May.
“[It] just makes us more visible – to complete the line as far as we can,” he said.
The project is estimated to cost between $700,000 and $800,000. Grotzki said the society has a grant from the city to cover approximately 25 per cent of the cost, a grant from the province to cover roughly one-third of the cost and the society will pick up the rest of the tab.
Harry Luke, a senior planner with the City of Edmonton, said there is initial support for the zoning of the application but there are worries about the impact on vehicle and bike traffic.
“There is a high volume of vehicular movement on Gateway to the downtown, yes, we are concerned with that. As well as 83 Avenue, where we know there is currently some construction going on with respect to a new bike lane and roadway rehabilitation,” he said.
Grotzki said the society expects the interruptions to traffic to be few and far between. If the line is extended, he said the streetcar will continue to operate on its current schedule, with three crossings an hour on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 4:20 p.m., and the crossings would be outside of rush hour.
“It would be a minute delay, that would probably be all…three times an hour,” he said.
He also said the city could balance the needs of the bike lane with the rail line crossing 83 Avenue, saying the issue could be resolved by modifying the bike lane barrier to allow for the rail line.
The city is taking the logistics of installation into consideration. The streetcar currently has a crossing with no lights or railway arms on Calgary Trail; Luke said the city still has to determine the safest method of crossing at Gateway Boulevard.
“We’re talking possibly railway arms to come down on Gateway Boulevard. We’re talking about how we’re going to try and integrate what’s already being constructed on 83 Avenue and just actually the logistics of getting the railway tracks actually laid down across Gateway,” he said.
Luke said the city will have a response to the society’s application within the next few weeks.
“We understand the society has been with the city since the 80s and that we appreciate the fact it brings in tourism and the fact that it is a historical aspect of Old Strathcona. We totally understand that but certainly, on the other side of the coin, have to be concerned with the impacts that may happen with it,” he said.
However, Grotzki said there is a sense of urgency on the organization’s part – funding from the city and province will expire at the end of the year. Without those grants, he said it will not be feasible to extend the rail line.