Edmonton

Edmonton city council eyes LRT bridges, tunnels along future lines

City council will soon face a difficult choice when it comes to the future of Edmonton LRT: Fix the mistakes of the past, or learn from them and forge ahead.

Council to debate which LRT line to construct next on April 27

A concept image of the west extension of the Valley LRT Line. (City of Edmonton)

City council will soon face a difficult choice about the future of Edmonton LRT: Fix the mistakes of the past, or learn from them and forge ahead.

On April 27, councillors will debate where next to put their transit infrastructure dollars. They debated the merits on Wednesday of going back to the drawing board on the final leg of the Metro line to eliminate traffic congestion, and options to prevent future traffic issues along the west Valley LRT extension.

Coun. Scott McKeen said he is inclined to fix the Metro Line first, but said the same solutions may not be warranted on the Valley Line.

"We're looking at a $300-million decision that could be overreaction to council skittishness at the moment," McKeen said.

The Metro Line has been plagued by traffic issues since it opened in September 2015. Councillors told city staff at transportation committee they are embarrassed by the project and the trouble it has caused for drivers.

City staff put forward three possible solutions to the Metro Line problems that involve tunneling under Princess Elizabeth Avenue or elevating the line over the road. A fourth option includes spacing out the level crossings and introducing a new station next to Kingsway Mall. The costs range from $35 to $95 million.

City staff also recommend investigating the need for an underground tunnel on a future leg of the line on 137th Avenue, at a cost of $70 million.

McKeen said adding LRT tunnels or bridges at intersections on future projects may be an overreaction.

Major intersections to be investigated 

The Valley Line is designed as a street level LRT system that will be integrated into the roads. Adding tunnels would cost five to 10 times more than a street level track, and the cost of elevating the tracks would be three to five times higher.

City staff propose investigating the need for a tunnel at Stony Plain Road between 156th Street and 142nd Street, and elevated tracks at 178th Street and 87th Avenue near West Edmonton Mall.

Since the Metro Line, people seem to think LRT causes traffic congestion, McKeen said, when in fact in helps relieve the problem by taking cars off the road. He said people may have to adjust to the changes, but expensive traffic solutions may not be required. 

Coun. Andrew Knack agreed there are some nerves after the city's experience with the Metro Line. But it may be worth considering pricey additions to the plan for those lines, he said, because the federal government has committed to pay 50 per cent of the cost of major transit infrastructure projects.

Coun. Michael Oshry said he would like to see council get ahead of any major traffic impacts on the LRT. He made a motion to ask city staff to consult with neighbouring landowners and developers in areas where they're considering running the LRT above or below the road.

"This is the one thing that we could do to really impact traffic flow," he said.

He hopes to see the LRT move west toward West Edmonton Mall before the city redesigns the Metro Line intersection at Princess Elizabeth.

He said extending the Valley Line will bring service to the one part of the city that doesn't have LRT. Once the Metro Line issues are fixed, he said, the traffic might start to flow again.

"That intersection is never going to be great, but it's sure going to be a lot better," he said.

Infrastructure manager Adam Laughlin said the city wouldn't move forward on investigating tunnel or elevated track options for either line until council commits funds for design.

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