Edmonton

Edmonton's Valley Line Southeast LRT delayed again after inspectors discover cracks in piers

Edmonton's $1.8 billion Valley Line Southeast LRT will not open by the end of the summer as previously planned after inspectors found cracks in concrete piers, the construction company in charge of the project announced Wednesday. 

TransEd won't give new opening date for LRT from Mill Woods to downtown

The Valley Line Southeast LRT is nearly two years behind the original opening date of winter 2020. (Cort Sloan/CBC)

Edmonton's $1.8-billion Valley Line Southeast LRT will not open by the end of the summer as previously planned after inspectors found cracks in concrete piers, the construction company in charge of the project announced Wednesday. 

Ronald Joncas, CEO of TransEd, said inspectors noticed the issue on July 16. 

"We have recently discovered cracks on some of the concrete piers that support the elevated tracks," Joncas told media at a news conference.

Joncas said of the 45 piers along the route, 18 piers may require repair. 

The cracks are due to thermal expansion issues related to the weather, he said. 

Crews have put up scaffolding around the piers and are undertaking strengthening measures, he said, and engineering teams are assessing all of the piers to try and better understand the root cause. 

Joncas would not say how long the new measures will take and when the line might open. 

"We are not in a position to give a date, because we don't know exactly what needs to be done," he said. 

He said the company will have a better understanding of timelines in two weeks. 

"This project has encountered unprecedented challenges," Joncas said.

Last October, the company announced that the project was delayed because of a longer-than-expected testing process for the new trains. COVID-19 also led to workforce shortages and supply chain issues for some construction supplies.

In 2018, crews hit a concrete mass nine metres below the surface of the North Saskatchewan River during the Tawatinâ Bridge construction. 

The latest delay means the line is nearly two years behind the original opening date of winter 2020. 

Mayor disappointed

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said as an advocate for accessible public transit, he's dismayed at news of the delay. 

"It is frustrating and deeply disappointing," Sohi said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at Edmonton City Hall. 

Sohi has been an advocate of the line since 2008, when he put forward a motion for the city to embark on the project.

He acknowledged that the public has been eager for the line to open this summer, as TransEd had been advertising. 

The delay is a significant inconvenience to passengers and people of Edmonton.- Andre Corbould, city manager

"Many of us should have been able to take the LRT to Folk Fest last weekend," Sohi said. "I heard this time and time again from Edmontonians at the festival." 

The Valley Line Southeast LRT has 11 stops, including one at the Muttart Conservatory at 98th Avenue, next to the site of the Edmonton Folk Fest at Gallagher Park. 

Taxpayers not on the hook

City manager Andre Corbould said he's also frustrated and called the situation unacceptable. 

"The delay is a significant inconvenience to passengers and people of Edmonton who should have been enjoying the Valley Line Southeast from Mill woods to downtown by now," he said.

"We are going to hold TransEd accountable to fix this problem." 

Under the public-private partnership model, taxpayers are not on the hook for delays in the project, TransEd is, Corbould said. 

"We expect TransEd to get this right and have the line open for safe, reliable service as soon as possible," he said. 

'They are significant repairs'

Adam Laughlin, an engineer and manager of the city's integrated infrastructure services branch, said thorough testing before opening the line to the public is important.

"That is why we go through that robust commissioning process to ensure that we capture any of those unforeseens, which do happen on large, civil infrastructure projects," he said.

There is no timeline on how long the assessment will take.

"From our perspective, they are significant repairs," he said. "So that's, at this point, the most that I can provide." 

The city will continue to provide frequent bus service along the line. 

A tarp covers a concrete pier.
Inspectors discovered cracks in concrete piers on July 16.  (Travis McEwan/CBC)

    Joncas said there is no safety risk to the public.

    Crews will continue to finish the final testing work where possible. 

    "All inspections and tests will be completed and you will continue to see trains driving on the street-level track," he said. 

    TransEd has been testing the line since last summer, when it started running Bombardier light rail vehicles on the tracks at the Strathearn LRT stop on 95th Avenue.

    It ramped up signal testing this spring at intersections from Mill Woods to downtown. 

    Construction on the public-private partnership project started in 2016.

    Scaffold wraps around piers.
    Construction workers have installed scaffolding around the damaged piers. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Natasha Riebe

    Journalist

    Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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