City council committed to southeast LRT line, despite missing $515 million

EDMONTON- Edmonton City Council has given itself until the end of August to figure out where the missing money for the southeast LRT project will come from.

The $1.8 billion project, which will see the LRT extended from downtown to Mill Woods, is currently short $515 million. The city hopes $150 million of that will come from an Ottawa infrastructure fund and the remaining $365 million will come from the province.

The first phase of the Valley Line is scheduled to open in 2019. However, there are concerns over that date now, because of the missing money.

City Council discussed a number of options Wednesday afternoon, as to how to come up with the $515 million.

One of those options was to delay construction until the money is secured. However, council has been told pushing back construction will cost more in the end, due to inflation.

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“Delaying, I think, does put this project at risk,” Councillor Amarjeet Sohi explained. “It’s going to cost taxpayers another $85 million for every year we delay the project.

“The further delay doesn’t help anybody. (It) doesn’t help the province, doesn’t help us, doesn’t help the Feds, and doesn’t help taxpayers at all.”

There was also discussion about the city borrowing the money, until funding from higher levels of government comes through.

“We’re not talking about replacing their commitment. All we’re talking about is backstopping their commitment, in a way, that when the money comes from them, then we don’t have to carry on that debt. Then we just pay it off,” Sohi explained.

Council also discussed the notion of moving forward without the funding in place, which the city has done in the past with similar projects, such as the NAIT LRT line. However, that option presents a challenge, because this is a P3 project.

“You can’t send out a P3 program for bidding if you don’t have all the finances in place,” Mayor Stephen Mandel explained.

Sohi, who has long been an advocate for the project, maintains the money does not need to be in place right away, just the commitment does.

“What we need at this time is just an indication from the province and federal government that this is a priority of the city and they acknowledge that and they’re going to support it.”

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Mandel says council is committed to the 2019 timeline and will do everything it can to keep this project on track.

“You have to have patience, and we need our MPs to work hard for us,” he said. “We shouldn’t be worried at all.”

“I think it’s absolutely doable,” Sohi added.

The topic will be back up for discussion on August 28.

With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News. 

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