Southbound Capital Line extension gets nod from Edmonton city council

Edmonton will focus on branching out the Capital Line LRT from Century Park to Ellerslie ahead of extending the Metro Line northwest to Castle Downs.

Council agrees to prioritize line from Century Park to Ellerslie over northwest

The 13-kilometre Valley Line Southeast LRT now under construction from Mill Woods to downtown Edmonton is at least six months behind schedule. (City of Edmonton)

Edmonton will focus on extending the Capital Line LRT from Century Park to Ellerslie before extending the Metro Line northwest to Castle Downs, city council agreed during a special meeting Monday. 

Council voted to move ahead first with the 4.5-kilometre Capital Line extension as outlined in a report on future LRT priorities. 

Bev Esslinger, councillor for Ward 2, argued the LRT should go northwest first — the last area of the city with no train. 

Residents in that part of the city are frustrated and feel left out, she said during the meeting. 

"The community has been waiting and waiting and waiting for LRT — many of those homes are 30 plus years — waiting for access similar to the northeast." 

People living in Ward 2 have little choice but to drive to events in the south part of the city. 

"I've lived here 25 years and I'm still waiting," she said. "I just truly believe for equity's sake that we should go northwest next." 

Four other councillors — Jon Dziadyk, Mike Nickel, Aaron Paquette and Moe Banga — agreed with Esslinger and voted against the recommendation. 

We are decades behind schedule of building out LRT.- Coun. Andrew Knack

The report outlines several reasons the estimated $1.05-billion Capital Line extension should be first. 

The project is closer to being shovel-ready, said Jason Meliefste, acting city manager of integrated infrastructure services.

Most of the land along the envisioned Capital Line extension is owned by the city or could be acquired from the Alberta government, while the land to the north is mainly privately owned and the city would have to expropriate it. 

Plans for the Capital Line south include an operations and maintenance facility directly north of the Heritage Valley Park and Ride, where light-rail vehicles can be stored and maintained. 

The 4.7-kilometre Metro Line extension is actually the first of two parts: the $1.1 billion Blatchford to Castle Downs and $900 million portion from Castle Downs to Campbell Road in St. Albert. 

If the city moved ahead now with the first part of the northwest line it would have to build a temporary maintenance facility. 

"If we were to fund the northwest LRT project at this point in time, we would have considerable work to make sure we have an interim solution around an end-of-line station at Castle Downs," Meliefste said.

The city also needs an agreement with CN to build a crossing over the Walker Rail Yard.
The Capital Line extension is estimated to cost $1.05 billion. (City of Edmonton)

Stephanie McCabe, deputy manager of urban form and corporate strategic development, said the Capital Line would help accommodate fast-growing neighbourhoods south of the river. 

"We do see increased growth pressures in the southwest and we are anticipating to continue to see growth in that area." 

Long-term funding 

The city has about $700 million for the next LRT project but would need to find the additional $300 million for the Capital Line extension, which could be ready for construction to start as early as 2021.

Coun. Andrew Knack agreed with the recommendation to start with the Capital Line extension. 

"We need proper mass transit to all parts of the city — that is what is needed in large urban centres like Edmonton," Knack said during the meeting. 

"We are decades behind schedule of building out LRT in the city or mass transit," he said. "That's really frustrating to see that."

He put forward a motion for the mayor, on behalf of council, to continue pressing the provincial and federal governments for long-term, predictable capital funding for mass transit expansion.

City council agreed. Edmonton is looking for a replacement for the City Charter Fiscal Framework, which the Alberta government discontinued in its last budget. 

Esslinger requested that administration assess the costs of acquiring land along the Blatchford to Campbell Road stretch, and report back with the results in the fall.

The next LRT projects slated for construction are the Valley Line West downtown to Lewis Farms and Metro Line NAIT to Blatchford. Provincial and federal funding of $2.25 billion has been allocated for those lines, which are expected to start in 2021.