Cracks found in 18 concrete piers that support some of the elevated LRT tracks along the Valley Line LRT extension mean the opening date will be delayed again.
During a news conference Wednesday morning at Davies Station, TransEd CEO Ronald Joncas said some final inspections conducted by the city and TransEd — the public-private partner building it — discovered a problem during a walkthrough on July 16.
“We have recently discovered cracks on some of the concrete piers that support some of the elevated tracks. We immediately initiated a protocol for a thorough investigation by our engineering team.”
Joncas could not provide a revised opening date for the line.
He said preliminary investigations reveal “lateral term load at piers at curve sections.”
Joncas described it as a “thermal expansion” issue. There are wide sections that span piers. They elongate and contract with temperature changes but there are devices installed to counter that action as part of the design.
There is also a long rail that has no expansion joint, Joncas said. It’s the combination of those different elements that TransEd engineers are looking at when it comes to the horizontal cracks they found that are a few millimetres thick.
TransEd and engineering teams are exploring options to strengthen the piers. They need to determine what additional construction work is necessary and then implement these options, Joncas said.
There are about 45 concrete piers on the line in total. Joncas said he doesn’t expect this to require replacement but rather “strengthening.”
It is still safe to walk and drive under any of the elevated sections, he said.
Joncas stressed there will be no additional costs to Edmontonians and the contract has provisions to protect taxpayers. TransEd is responsible for covering the cost of the strengthening measure.
“At all stages, the city and TransEd are working collaboratively together” to explore the best option and implement it, Joncas said. He added that TransEd did “communicate immediately” with peers at the city, the city teams working on the project.
“We were all getting ready for the opening this summer,” he said. “Sadly, this will not be possible.”
He said once engineers complete the root cause assessment (1-2 weeks) and create a strengthening design plan, TransEd will be in a better position to offer an updated start date.
“I want to say how disappointed we all are and that we deeply regret the inconvenience… this delay may bring to Edmontonians.
“Be assured that we are doing all that we can to find the most efficient solution.”
Later Wednesday, city officials said they were disappointed and frustrated.
“TransEd — as a public-private partnership — has not delivered this project as expected,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said. “They are responsible for this delay and they will be held accountable.”
Sohi said he shares Edmontonians’ anger and frustration.
“This project has been near and dear to my heart,” he said, explaining it started 14 years ago with a motion he presented to build the line.
“This work started in 2008. It was scheduled to be completed in December 2020 and it is now August 2022 and we are still waiting.”
The mayor also called on administration to do a comprehensive review of how the city builds large projects, especially this P3 approach.
“We also need to acknowledge the lack of oversight the city has on P3 projects,” Sohi said, adding transparency and accountability are essential for keeping projects on time and on budget.
City Manager Andre Corbould said he was also deeply disappointed and frustrated.
“We’re going to hold TransEd accountable.”
In order to qualify for federal assistance, the project was done as a P3, Corbould said. It also was projected to save the city hundreds of millions of dollars.
“TransEd is fully responsible for the costs of repairing the piers, and it continues to forfeit payments every month the system is not operational. Edmontonians’ financial interests are protected under the terms of the public-private partnership (P3) agreement for the project.”
Corbould said this isn’t just a case of “bad luck.”
“I think there’s accountability here… We went out and bought and found some of the best specialists we could to do this work. It’s not luck. It’s competence and expertise.”
Adam Laughlin, deputy city manager of Integrated Infrastructure Services, couldn’t give any time estimates but said, as far as he’s aware, the response will involve “significant repairs.”
He said it was in mid-July, as part of normal process, that “the city team identified cracks” and alerted TransEd, which started assessing the impact. Last week, Laughlin said, the city was informed by TransEd that the impact was significant and required repairs.
“Certainly, in a public sector project, that’s as transparent as we can be in terms of the time frames in discovering these issues.”
He said the city team is in daily conversations with TransEd.
“We have been (communicating) throughout the project but even more so when these issues were discovered.”
The 13-kilometre line connecting downtown with Mill Woods was originally slated to be ready for passengers in December 2020 before being delayed to the end of 2021.
In October 2021, the opening was delayed again to the first quarter of 2022.
Then in December 2021, another delay was announced, this time to the summer of 2022. At the time, an exact opening date was not provided.
On June 22, the contractor again said it was still on track to open the line this summer, but an exact date was not released. TransEd said an exact opening date will be provided closer to when the line will be ready for passengers.
The transit union recently noticed a change in the Edmonton bus schedule and said Tuesday that may indicate another delay.
Bus route 510X — which was covering the Mill Wood Town Centre-to-downtown route the new LRT leg should be covering — was being staffed on a week-to-week basis, said ATU local president Steve Bradshaw.
However, it was recently replaced by a more permanent bus route 73 that’s scheduled to last until at least December.
“It suggests to us that perhaps there’s some information in the background somewhere — that’s not being shared publicly — that the Valley Line is not ready to fire up sometime in the summer,” Bradshaw told Global News on Tuesday.
Bradshaw says that bus route is in place for this entire quarter, “which is about Christmastime, or until the commencement of the tram line.”
The transit union is also questioning the value of P3 projects.
“Had we brought this project in-house in the first place, we’d already have a system up and running,” Steve Bradshaw, president of ATU Local 569, said in a news release Wednesday.
“This is what happens when we rely on contractors to do our work for us. Without proper oversight, we get sub-standard work, substandard building materials and the bills keep adding up. When will it ever stop?”
The union also raised concerns with the Valley Line West extension.
“The use of P3s is a shell game to move debt off the books and hide from the facts,” Bradshaw added.