Construction on the Valley LRT Line could slow down traffic in southeast Edmonton, which is already bumper to bumper, unless the city can speed up plans to widen arterial roads in that area, says a city councillor.

"You have a potential congestion nightmare that's going to emerge," said Coun. Mike Nickel on Wednesday.

The Valley line will run down 75th Street south of Argyll Road to the Mill Woods Town Centre.

City administration said all major streets in that area are already jam-packed with traffic during peak times. There are no other routes that can easily accommodate the traffic displaced by the construction.

"We have to start prepping people now that it's going to get tight," Nickel said.

The timing of the Valley line is expected to begin in the spring but that timeline could change because the contract for the $1.8-billion project has yet to be finalized. 

Nearby artery could be widened 

The city, meanwhile, plans to eventually expand nearby 50th Street between Whitemud Drive and the Sherwood Park Freeway from four lanes to six to ease congestion.

The city has named the 50th street project as one of its top road-widening priorities, but administration recommends holding off on it until 2020, after the Valley line is finished.

The street widening would cost more than $30 million.

Nickel said trying to do both projects at once would leave drivers with congested roads and few options.

"I think it would cause serious issues," he said.

There is a possibility the city could get the work done before the Valley line construction begins with stimulus dollars from the federal government, which the provincial government plans to allocate in its April budget, but city officials aren't sure the project would be ready in time.

Coun. Ed Gibbons said the city needs to be ready, in case the money comes through.

"We can't be the squeaky wheel, and then all of a sudden the money is offered and not get at something," Gibbons said.

Nickel agreed, and said the city doesn't want to leave money for the project on the table if it's offered.

LRT could be the answer

The congestion in southeast Edmonton will likely still be an issue long after 50th Street is widened, according to transportation department officials.

Approximately 40,000 vehicles use the road each day, and as more people move into southeast Edmonton and neighbouring Beaumont that number is likely to climb.

Infrastructure manager Adam Laughlin said the city will never be able to "build your way out of congestion."

That's where the Valley line comes in. Transportation department officials said the city's best chance of reducing traffic is to get people to use the LRT.

"It'll be way better and easier and faster for people who can take the LRT to take it," said Coun. Ben Henderson. "And that will take a lot of the traffic off there."

He said, whatever happens, drivers who pass through that area should brace for change.