Tensions were high and animosity was evident as TransEd officials outlined a proposal for a street closure that had Strathearn residents and businesses crying foul.
Dozens of people gathered at an open house on Saturday, one of four taking place that day, at La Cite Francophone as TransEd staff detailed a plan to close 95 Avenue from 85 Street to Connors Road for construction.
TransEd said the current construction of the Valley Line LRT on 95 Avenue is disruptive and there have been complaints about noise, light and access. It is putting forward a plan to shut down the road to speed up construction so it is completed by the end of 2019 as opposed to 2020.
“This is construction season. This is the chance. If we don’t do something this year, there’s no full closure next year. Once we’ve made this decision… that’s how it’s going to come out for the rest of the time frame,” said Dean Heuman, stakeholder relations manager for the Valley Line Southeast.
“There’s a schedule advantage to us. We are trending behind.”
Heuman said a full closure of the road would allow more work to be done faster.
“We can have multiple crews doing multiple things at the same time so they would be building sidewalks and they would be building rail bed. In order to keep one lane open in each direction, we have to do it in a more linear fashion, which takes more time,” he said.
Watch below: There are some serious questions about a proposal for an Edmonton neighbourhood dealing with LRT construction. Vinesh Pratap explains. (Filed Feb. 5, 2019).
TransEd said it has discussed and consulted the proposal with Canada Post, police, fire and ETS. However, the proposal did not sit well with residents and business owners.
Cries of the financial impacts on business, accusations that the decision for a closure has already been predetermined, questions about compensation packages for local stores, anger over road access and whether the company will even meet the proposed new deadline of the end of November were just some of the many concerns brought up by residents.
Peggy Adams opened Juniper Café and Bistro three years ago; it is located at 95 Avenue and 87 Street and would be directly impacted by a full street closure.
“Ultimately I guess I worry about the 20 people that work for me. They depend on us. They are Strathearn residents.”
Adams said she is concerned about how community feedback will be taken into consideration.
“I don’t have any promise that the community says, ‘Absolutely no way, this is not good for us.’ Will this still go ahead? And my heart tells me it might still go ahead,” she said.
“It seems like the way they’re doing it now is, yes, hard for us to maintain and do business. But we are still able to. I feel like what they’re proposing will make it so difficult to do business that we may not survive.”
Heuman said TransEd will work with local businesses to provide signage and maps so customers know they are still open. Global News asked how prepared TransEd is for the possibility a local business will shut down if a closure takes place.
“All we can do is try and bring more customers to their door,” he said.
“There is no compensation package. There hasn’t been on any capital projects in the City of Edmonton and so that’s not a factor in our decision making. It’s not like we’re going to subsidize businesses.”
Vincent Heidenreich is the owner of Dorothy’s Appliance Centre, which has been in business for 48 years. He said the road closure could potentially shutter the business.
“That’s how we thrive. People — to be able to bring their product into us to repair,” he said.
“We don’t want the road to close. As long as we have roadways, construction can be the way it is. Construction doesn’t impact us. It’s the closure of main roads is what impacts everybody.”
Heuman said the tension from community members was expected.
“When you change the schedule, when you go into any community and there’s this much disruption, despite the fact that they generally want the LRT and are going to be happy to have it, this is a major project,” he said.
He said public feedback and feedback from businesses will play a factor in the decision, but he admits there is way to quantitatively determine how that decision will be made.
“There is no actual metric. We didn’t set up a formula that says 10 points for this, five points for that, seven points for this. There’s not that system overall. It has to be in the interest of the community. It has to be in the interest of the project,” Heuman said.
Global News asked what will happen if the full closure goes ahead and TransEd does not meet the new deadline of November 2019.
“We’ve obviously built in some contingency. I can’t tell you what Mother Nature is going to do,” Heuman said.
“We would look at the best possible scenario. Is it opening one lane? Is it opening both lanes but still not having a rail bed poured at the end? There are no guarantees in construction.”
Jenny McAlister is the director of the Strathearn Art Walk, which draws thousands of people to the parkland north of Strathearn Drive every summer. She is concerned about how a road closure could impact access to the event.
TransEd has suggested a park-and-ride option for those attending the art walk, but McAlister said that may not be a viable option.
“We did look at doing a park-and-ride, thinking the road would be open in previous years and it’s very complicated. There’s not a lot of places to do it, even so, you’re adding more barriers to entry in terms of people coming,” she said.
“It’s not as easy as just saying we’re going to throw up a park-and-ride and that will solve all your problems.”
Heuman said TransEd will make a decision about the road closure in early March; a follow-up meeting with the community is scheduled for early April.
“We’re absolutely prepared for it not to go ahead. We have to be prepared both ways,” he said.
As for McAlister, she said the community is mainly looking for TransEd to be considerate.
“If it takes a little bit longer for that to happen, I think that might be okay.”