Nearly a decade ago, in April 2011, it was all about celebrating a significant milestone: provincial funding was secured for Edmonton’s LRT to NAIT, allowing the more than $600-million project to proceed.
Now, a Global News investigation raises questions about how future demand could impact future traffic around the major intersections the line crosses.
A Freedom of Information request resulted in the release of internal emails, where in one it’s suggested “intersections will fail in the peak hours” if the trains run every five minutes; current peak-hour frequency sees trains run every 15 minutes.
A traffic model animation was also released as part of the request, showing eastbound traffic on 111 Avenue backed up more than 10 blocks.
“Five-minute frequency is a long way out,” Mayor Don Iveson said in an interview with Global News.
Getting more people to use transit is now enshrined in policy.
The recently approved city plan, which foresees an Edmonton of two million people, aims for half of all trips to be accommodated in large part by bus and LRT.
But will the need for more frequent trains demanded by such a policy conflict with future traffic demands?
In an interview, Iveson addressed the information released via the FOIP request.
“Certainly an intersection reaches capacity faster if there’s also an LRT pumping through it. But the point is, there could be 100,000 people a day making the trip on the train and you get optimization of the overall transportation network by having the train there.”
The mayor added that in the next generation, even intersections without LRT crossing at surface will struggle.
“I know there’s been talk in the past about going over or under to reduce those traffic snarls. It’ll be a lot of money.”
Many on the current council were not at the table when the initial decisions about the Metro Line were made, including Councillor Scott McKeen.
Global News asked McKeen point blank: ‘Did we rob Peter to pay Paul, in that sense?’
“Yes,” McKeen replied.
The current council has moved ahead with a more than $300-million expansion into Blatchford — without the knowledge of the animation or the concerns addressed in the internal email.
“If the LRT is that successful, then we need to find a way to keep it that successful and if there’s conflicting demand — or competing demand from electric automobiles or whatever it is at that point, autonomous vehicles — then we might have to look at a grade separation,” McKeen said.
The mayor points to the Valley Line as another potential solution, with its slower tram-style operation seeing trains stop at some red lights at times to allow opposing vehicle traffic through.
“I understand why (citizens) they’re skeptical. I understand why they’re frustrated. But I’m very hopeful that they’re going to see a different system that is preferable when the Valley Line opens.”
The city stresses the materials released via the Freedom of Information request are based on the variables of the day.
“We’re expanding Yellowhead Trail and going to expressway and it’s amazing how much changes like that will actually influence changes in the network,” said Brad Smid, one of the city’s leads on the LRT expansion file.
Still, there are questions about why the traffic model and the issues addressed internally at the city were not made public.
“I can’t comment about what the decisions were on what was released seven or eight years ago,” Iveson said.
“But certainly my expectation now, and you’ve seen in more recent years, a much greater commitment to transparency around these things.”
The Global News investigation raises questions about how future emergency access to the Royal Alex Hospital will be handled. AHS provided the following statement:
AHS EMS has managed the addition of the Metro Line LRT for the last five years and is aware of the potential traffic disruptions if frequency of the Metro LRT line is increased. AHS will continue to work with the City to ensure any impact to our patients and EMS crews is minimal. AHS will do all it can to ensure patient care is not disrupted. These sorts of challenges are not new – EMS crews often face traffic challenges caused by construction, traffic volumes during peak hour, road closures, etc. EMS has plans and processes to ensure any disruption is minimal. There are several entrances to the RAH ED which EMS crews can use. EMS crews also have the ability to use lights and sirens. EMS crews have a good knowledge of the city and alternate routes, and the ambulance computer can provide GPS directions to the call location or hospital, taking into account traffic volumes.