Councillors rekindle battle over Edmonton LRT expansion

A political battle may be once again brewing at Edmonton city hall on where LRT goes next.

'If this gets political and I have to fight it out at council, then that's what I'm going to do'

A train on the Metro LRT Line passes by NAIT. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

A political battle may once again be brewing at Edmonton city hall over where the LRT goes next.

The Valley Line LRT, now under construction, is the city's current priority. That project will link downtown to Mill Woods in the south and Lewis Farms in the west end.

Extending the Metro Line to the Batchford residential area is next on the list. The Northwest LRT project was to supposed to be the third on that priority list.

But on Tuesday, after executive committee discussed an LRT progress report, Coun. Dave Loken said he was worried that other council members championing other priorities may push back expansion of the LRT into the northwest by 30 years.

"Certain councillors are trying to jump the queue on LRT prioritization," Loken said. "I've been a good team player here. I've supported everything up to this point. But I'm getting impatient."

During the discussion, Coun. Michael Walters raised the recent announcement from the provincial government to build a new hospital at Ellerslie Road and 127th Street.

Walters suggested the city might want to revisit LRT priority plans as a result of that announcement.
Coun. Dave Loken says he's been 'a good team player' but is starting to get impatient about LRT progress to his part of the city. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

The Ward 10 councillor asked that a report set to come before council in 2018 be moved ahead to November 2017.

Coun. Bev Esslinger, who also represents a portion of north Edmonton, said she's willing to stand by Loken in the battle.

"The communities in the northwest have been waiting a long time for services," said Esslinger, who represents Ward 2. 

 Loken predicted LRT will become a campaign issue in the October election.

"If this gets political and I have to fight it out at council, then that's what I'm going to do," he said.

At the very least, the northwest should get bus rapid transit, said Loken.

To bring LRT or bus rapid transit north from Blatchford would require a bridge across CN land and Yellowhead Trail, city staff told councillors.

That bridge would cost $100 million to $200 million, said Nat Alampi, city program manager for LRT design and construction.

New evaluation process

A second LRT report discussed during Tuesday's meeting focused on new criteria to evaluate each intersection new LRT lines would cross.

Under the new criteria, city staff would compare LRT crossing frequency to worst-case traffic volumes. That wasn't done in the past.

When the Metro LRT line was first opened, there were traffic delays of five minutes during peak times, with drivers waiting up to 10 minutes to get through intersections such as 111th Avenue and Princess Elizabeth Avenue.

The city wants to avoid repeating that mistake.

There are already plans for some elevated intersections on the west LRT line extension, and city staff said one intersection on their radar is 142nd Street and Stony Plain Road.

City council is expected to vote on those criteria at a June 13 meeting.