City may regret building the West LRT, Edmonton councillor warns

The Valley Line West LRT just might be a bad investment for Edmonton taxpayers, warns Coun. Mike Nickel.

'I think there is a value-for-tax question that needs to be asked,' Mike Nickel says

New transit technology could make Edmonton's LRT infrastructure obsolete in a few years, says Coun. Mike Nickel. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC )

The Valley Line West LRT just might be a bad investment for Edmonton taxpayers, Coun. Mike Nickel warns.

Nickel worries that changes in transit technology, including the possible introduction of driverless vehicles on city streets, will have Edmonton regretting the project in the near future.

"I'm looking at LRT right now to the west end, other projects along that line and asking the question, are we overbuilding our infrastructure?" Nickel said in an interview Friday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"I'm very concerned. In the west end, we're dropping $2.24 billion on a LRT system that might be redundant in 20 years.

"Now is the time to start asking these questions, as we set this new line."

The estimated price tag for the West LRT recently jumped by $440 million to $2.24 billion.

City administration has recommended several changes to the current design which will stretch from downtown to Lewis Farms.

The increased price tag includes money for a vehicle underpass at 149th Street and Stony Plain Road and raising a portion of the LRT line to 178th Street.

Just drawing lines on a map, trust me, that's where we got into trouble with our Valley Line.-Mike Nickel

The rising cost should have the city rethinking their commitment to the project, Nickel said.

"I think there is a value-for-tax question that needs to be asked. What is mass transit going to look like in 15 years, in 20 years?

"The biggest risk were facing today, not just as a municipality but provincially and federally, are technology risks that make certain parts of our operations redundant."

Nickel also worries about the impact of the line on parking, street traffic and congestion during the daily commute.

He remains sceptical the project will alleviate the city's traffic woes.

Mistakes were made with the southeast leg of the LRT due to a lack of adequate traffic planning, he said, and the city should be "extra special cautious" before undertaking another major transit project.

"Where is the drive and the sensibility, if I don't have the metrics attached to it? Just drawing lines on a map, trust me, that's where we got into trouble with our Valley Line," he said.

"The logic and why we did what we did for certain pieces of this line even confuses me today.

"But it was done, the money was put in, I got on council, and I have to deal with the consequences."

It's just to the point where we're grinning and bearing it.-Mike Nickel

Construction on the $1.8 billion southeast leg of the Valley Line, has created chaos for residences in his ward for the past three years, Nickel said.

He expects it will be much of the same as work crews continue to put down track across the city.

"We've been living it for three years," he said.

"There were times when I had a whole neighbourhood cordoned off because of lack of coordination … and switching the lines on the road almost on a weekly basis, confusing commuters.

"It's just to the point where we're grinning and bearing it."

City council will hold a public hearing March 21 on the proposed design changes to the Valley Line West LRT.