Edmonton Coun. Tim Cartmell calls for halt on west LRT amid funding concerns
By his own admission, civil engineer-turned-Ward 9 city councillor, Tim Cartmell, loves to build things, especially effective transportation systems.
But when it comes to the west Edmonton LRT expansion, he said there are too many concerns for him to support going ahead with the project.
Cartmell’s concerns boil down to four things:
- Long-term funding stability amid a possible change in provincial government next spring.
- Uncertainty on how yet-untested the first leg of the line from Mill Woods to downtown will work with existing traffic.
- How the western route will affect existing neighbourhoods and southwest side commuters.
- Changing technology.
He shared those concerns in a blog online and in an interview with Erin Chalmers Thursday on Global News Morning.
“I would very much like to build the things Edmontonians want to see built. I’m a builder by nature and I would like to be able to deliver these projects that Edmontonians want. My concern is that we are depending on a funding model that just might not survive the next budget and might not survive the next election.”
“I think it would be prudent to ensure the funding we’re counting on is going to be there when we need it.”
Last week, Premier Rachel Notley announced a $1.04-billion commitment towards Edmonton’s Valley Line West LRT expansion. The sticking point: the money is coming from the province’s Climate Leadership Plan, better known as the carbon tax. Eliminating the carbon tax has been one of UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s main promises for months now.
That said, UCP house leader Jason Nixon said last week that if his party forms the government, it would honour existing funding commitments.
“Just because the carbon [tax] is gone does not mean that a project like that would not be built. Jason Kenney has also been extremely clear existing projects that have already been approved and stuff like that would continue underneath our government,” Nixon said on the same day the LRT funding was announced.
In Cartmell’s books, talk is cheap — he wants more than promises.
“We would need to certainly, at the very least, identify another funding source for it. So I’d like to see that all be in place before we — the city — made a decision to go down this road.”
Watch below: Edmonton City Councillor Tim Cartmell suggests now is not the time to go ahead with the second phase of the Valley Line to the city’s west end. Vinesh Pratap reports.
Carmell said if city council backs the West LRT and funding support evaporates, it could become the only project we can afford to build for many years.
In his blog post, Cartmell said if the city has to go it alone on the West LRT, “it will consume all of our available borrowing capacity and we won’t be able to build much of anything else.”
“If we can only build one project, this isn’t the project,” he said.
The city councillor also pointed out Edmonton’s poor track record on building LRT.
“South LRT created traffic crossing concerns that still exist many years later. The Metro Line was a new approach to LRT — mass transit, but not rapid transit. And that project is still struggling to get to full capacity. The Valley Line, of which the West LRT will be part, uses another approach. Low floor, mixed with traffic — not rapid transit, but more like a streetcar.”
WATCH: City planners have officially laid out how 27 kilometres of a new LRT line will look. Vinesh Pratap gives us a preview of the Valley Line.
Cartmell wants to see how well the first half of the Valley Line — a 13-kilometre stretch from southeast Edmonton to downtown slated to open in 2020 — works before committing to the other half of the 27-kilometre long line.
“I hope it works great — but wouldn’t it be prudent to wait and see how it turns out in the southeast before committing to extend it west? Shouldn’t we understand the operating impacts and unintended consequences of low-speed, traffic integrated streetcars before we build another line?”
The West LRT will restrict vehicle capacity from the west and southwest parts of Edmonton by removing lanes of traffic on Stony Plain Road and 104 Avenue — one of the main routes into the downtown core.
Cartmell pointed out drivers from Riverbend, Terwillegar and Windermere have no mass-transit alternative options and rely on cars for efficient travel.
“We are, in our neighbourhoods, compelled to use our cars and a lot of that traffic that goes to the core is travelling through the west end, travelling down Stony Plain Road and 102 Avenue. There are no other alternatives. This project will severely compromise traffic flow in that direction.”
He said the city has not developed a plan to mitigate the effects building the west LRT line will have on those commuters.
“We are simply shrugging our shoulders at that. That too is a concern.”
Cartmell also noted some transportation experts are cautioning cities on investing in rail technologies when technologies such as in-road sensors and driverless electric buses may be the way of the future.
The estimated cost of Valley Line West is $2.6 billion. The city’s current plan is to have procurement ready at the beginning of 2019, with the goal of completing the project in 2027 or 2028.
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