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Terwillegar Drive expansion may be ‘at risk’ amid budget deliberations: Edmonton councillor

Click to play video: 'Terwillegar Drive expansion may be ‘at risk’ amid budget deliberations: Edmonton councillor'
Terwillegar Drive expansion may be ‘at risk’ amid budget deliberations: Edmonton councillor
Edmonton city councillor Tim Cartmell is fighting to ensure a big roadway project in his southwest ward of pihêsiwin isn't sidelined by budget pressures. The Terwillegar Drive connection to Whitemud Drive is a rush hour traffic hot spot. But as Chris Chacon explains, the cost to improve it has gone up – Dec 2, 2022

pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell says he is concerned the Terwillegar Drive expansion project in southwest Edmonton may be “at risk” amid current city budget deliberations.

Terwillegar Drive is currently being upgraded to accommodate the traffic needs of the area, as it has exceeded its capacity.

LISTEN: pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell on 630 CHED Afternoons with J’lyn Nye

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The three-phase project includes upgrading Terwillegar Drive to an expressway with four lanes in each direction — three for vehicle traffic and one dedicated bus lane.

Interchange upgrades and bridge widening are also part of the project, which started last year.

The full expansion project, which also includes enhanced bus stops, a shared-use path and a pedestrian bridge, is expected to take five years to complete.

Read more: Alberta government announces $120M to widen, expand Edmonton’s Terwillegar Drive

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An additional $44 million for the expressway project is being considered for approval in the city’s 2023-2026 capital budget.

“There has been some cost escalation,” Cartmell said Friday. “The costs have gone up roughly $40 million and that is the piece that’s in the budget, in the current budget, is the increase to the cost of the overall project.”

Cartmell is concerned to hear some of his council colleagues have suggested revisiting elements of the project to save money.

“Questions were actually raised about reducing or eliminating the funding for Terwillegar Drive in the last day or two,” he said.

“We’ve waited our turn. Every other corner of the city has seen these investments. We should finish this project.”

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Click to play video: 'Terwillegar Drive expansion a big project for Alberta transportation'
Terwillegar Drive expansion a big project for Alberta transportation

O-day’min Coun. Anne Stevenson said as she was reading through the budget line by line, “Terwillegar Drive just sort of stood out as something that I don’t know fully aligns with all of our priorities.”

She said while there are some great aspects of the project, including bus lanes, a pedestrian bridge and shared-use paths, she is less confident about components that add new lanes only.

“Would there be a way to re-scope the project that maintained the active transportation infrastructure while potentially reducing overall costs?” she questioned Friday. “If there are project components that don’t need to advance right away, I think that’s exploring.

“Administration came back to say there could be some potential changes to ramps that could decrease the costs. So I just want to have a conversation about what that looks like. Is that going to be a significant savings?

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“If it’s a couple million, maybe that’s not worthwhile,” she continued. “If it’s a $10-, $15-, $20-million savings, yeah, I think that’s worth contemplating if safety is maintained.”

Read more: City to push province to help pay for Terwillegar Drive upgrade

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Stevenson said she understands there are many Edmontonians who are passionate about the project, adding she’s received dozens of emails from residents expressing their interest in the project moving forward.

She also understands there are major traffic backups in certain areas along the corridor, including Whitemud Drive, that frustrate drivers.

The councillor said she just wants to ask questions of administration to ensure the city is being “really rigorous” amid challenging budget deliberations.

“I certainly would not want to see increased costs. The intent is to look at decreasing the overall cost,” she said, adding she would want to ensure any potential changes would also keep safety top of mind.

Click to play video: 'Alberta government funds $120M of Terwillegar Drive expansion'
Alberta government funds $120M of Terwillegar Drive expansion

Cartmell worries any delays in the project will only cost the city more money.

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“We wouldn’t save any money. We would redesign the project and whatever we might save would be lost in the time spent redesigning the work. So all we’re going to do is spend the same money and get less for it,” he said.

“All of the elements work together, so taking a particular element out means redesigning the whole project or substantial parts of the project, which means we lose the next construction year.”

The Whitemud Drive westbound offramp to Terwillegar Drive on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Global News

He is also worried delaying the project would cause unsafe traffic situations along the corridor to continue. He’s talking about the Whitemud Drive exit onto Terwillegar Drive, which backs up during rush hour.

“We allow an unsafe condition to continue,” he said. “Allowing Whitemud Drive to be unsafe is not a Ward pihêsiwin thing, it is a city-wide and region-wide thing.

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“It doesn’t make a lot of sense. So my strong suggestion is that we keep going with what council approved a few years ago and get this project complete.”

Mike Boychuk, president of the Oak Hills Community League, said the project is well designed and now is not the time to be making any changes.

“The Terwillegar Drive project is essential for us as a major artery, it’s essential for safety, it’s essential for us to do what we do,” he said.

“For vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, it’s a key project. It was delayed for such a long time, needed for such a long time, to hear that it may not be constructed to its full design at this point is disheartening.”

Read more: Edmonton community groups request more funds from 2023-2026 budget

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Boychuk said with any budget, you need to do the things that are essential and important. For the community, it’s very important to have the project completed in the way it was designed.

“The residents here in Terwillegar, Riverbend, Windermere, we all need this project. It’s a good design. It’s been scaled back in terms of optimizing the City of Edmonton dollars that go into it. It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

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“My kids need to get to university. People need to get up and down Terwillegar Drive… The city just needs to find a way to get this done.

Cartmell is urging area residents to contact Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and other councillors to express their support for the project.

Budget discussions have been going on at city hall all week. Currently, a 3.9 per cent tax hike every year for the next four years is being proposed.

On Thursday, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said this is the toughest budget he has ever seen.

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