LRT board backs ‘signature’ bridge to cross river

EDMONTON – Another modern bridge could soon span the North Saskatchewan River after a city committee approved a “signature” design Tuesday for Edmonton’s southeast LRT.

The bridge features one set of concrete pylons stretching 20 to 25 metres into the air holding cables that will support the deck, said Nat Alampi, program manager for the southeast to west LRT.

“It still provides a signature structure, but doesn’t overpower the downtown skyline.”

The recommendation by the LRT governance board, which must be approved Feb. 20 by city council, ends months of discussion about the best design for a crossing intended to replace the Cloverdale pedestrian bridge.

Planners started with eight choices and whittled them down to three, but people were divided between a cable-stayed bridge with pylons extending to the top of the valley and the basic girder bridge, Alampi said.

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“The river valley is obviously a very significant part of the city’s identity. The half of the public that wanted a large signature structure felt we could use another landmark,” he said.

“The other half thought this is the river valley, let’s do something that isn’t obtrusive, that almost blends in to the skyline … It really was a very polarizing item.”

Although all three proposals were feasible, he thinks the recommended option strikes a balance between these two camps.

The estimated $45-million to $65-million price tag is also in the middle, between $35 million to $50 million for a box girder and $55 million to $80 million for a cable-stayed.

A walking and bicycling path will hang under the LRT deck, putting pedestrians at about the same height above the water as they are on the footbridge, so they can easily reach park trails, Alampi said.

There will also be a smaller environmental impact. The bridge will include one pylon in the river and one on the edge, compared to three pylons immersed to support the current structure.

The LRT tracks will come out of a tunnel from downtown in Louise McKinney Park and remain high enough to spare most of the trees on the south bank before crossing above 98th Avenue and arriving at the Muttart station.

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Coun. Ben Henderson, whose ward covers the south side of the bridge, said he supports the design and didn’t want to see a “dull concrete thing” put up.

His only concern is losing a popular pedestrian link until the new bridge is finished, but he doesn’t think that can be avoided.

“Too much structure there would spoil the view. This seems to me to be a nice compromise.”

This could be Edmonton’s second new bridge of the decade, with a span upriver to replace the 100-year-old Walterdale Bridge slated for completion in 2015.

The city hopes to have money in place this year for the $1.8-billion LRT line from downtown to Mill Woods, including a $400-million public-private partnership grant from the federal government.

If funding is arranged, utility relocation would start next year and construction in 2015, Alampi said.

The route is scheduled to go into operation in 2019.

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