LRT to west Edmonton should not be derailed, some city councillors say

Long-time advocates of an LRT line to west Edmonton are confident the Valley Line will go ahead as planned, despite a move by council to explore bus rapid transit (BRT) options.

Even some supporters of bus rapid transit (BRT) review say that doesn't make sense for west end

City administration will compile a report comparing the costs between an LRT line and a BRT system between downtown and Lewis Farms. (CBC)

Long-time advocates of an LRT line to west Edmonton are confident the Valley Line will go ahead as planned, despite a move by council to revisit bus rapid transit (BRT) options.

"LRT to the west end of the city is absolutely the right way to go," Coun. Andrew Knack told CBC News on Wednesday. "To me, there's not a lot of merit to the idea of bringing in BRT to the west end."

However, Knack voted with his 12 colleagues, including Mayor Don Iveson, this week to ask city administration for a report comparing the costs of a BRT system versus the costs of developing an LRT line from downtown to Lewis Farms. 

"I didn't see the harm in that," Knack said. "It allows some of the newer councillors, who maybe haven't been involved in these discussions for a long time, to have some of that additional context to that discussion."

Coun. Ben Henderson also voted in favour of having administration prepare the report. He said it will give council a better understanding for planning BRT in some parts of the city in the future.

Still, Henderson is convinced the city should stick with LRT for the west end.

'Doesn't make sense'

"It doesn't make sense if you're going to be having to run five buses instead of one LRT car through those intersections every five minutes," said Henderson.

Tim Cartmell, a first-time councillor, suggested comparing the two transit methods.

"BRT might be less costly to construct than LRT," Cartmell said. "If there's savings to be made on any particular alignment, [those] savings could be redirected, and actually we could extend the tentacles of our mass transit system a little farther than we might otherwise."

The conversation is far from new.

Council extensively explored BRT options in 2007 but opted for LRT after a report was compiled with results from public surveys. 
Kim Krushell, a former three-term councillor, said council choose to expand the LRT system instead of opting for BRT. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC News)

Former councillor Kim Krushell, who was on council at the time, recalled the process that saw the city gather public feedback, noting survey respondents "overwhelmingly" preferred the LRT idea.

In 2012, council approved a concept plan for the Valley Line west.

Preliminary engineering and design work for the complete Valley Line, running from Mill Woods to Lewis Farms, cost $39 million. Of that, $14 million was specifically spent on the west portion.

With funding from the federal government, another $12 million has been spent on engineering, staffing, engagement and overhead for the Valley Line west, but not land acquisition costs, LRT design and construction, city spokesperson Quinn Nicholson told CBC News. 

"There'd have to be a really compelling case for why you would want to suddenly change direction completely and start going towards developing a BRT system," Krushell said.

The infrastructure on the southeast line is already under construction, so it makes sense to continue to expand LRT further, she added.

Operating costs higher for BRT

"You've already sunk all that cash into it … and you're going to end it before you do the system in the west end?"

Krushell said BRT may be less expensive to develop but operating costs would be higher than an LRT system long-term.

Knack and Henderson say that areas west of downtown have the population to support an LRT and the city expects lots of people will use it. 
Coun. Andrew Knack has been advocating for the Valley Line west for several years. (CBC )

Buses have a maximum capacity of 100 people while the low-floor LRT will have a maximum capacity of 700 people per train, Knack said in a blog post this week.

To fill the demand, the city would need five buses every three minutes during peak times compared to roughly one train every four minutes.

Cartmell's motion calls for a summary of capital and operating costs for each transit option.

He argued that the report won't cost a lot of money or time, as previous studies have been done for the city. 

The report is due by March 21, when the city will hold a public hearing where residents will have the opportunity to give  input on the Valley Line LRT.


Natasha Riebe


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.

With files from Anna McMillan


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