Plan to elevate Valley Line LRT grounded

Edmonton city councillors have rejected a plan to elevate a portion of the Valley Line LRT, and will maintain the status quo saying the cost, at up to $220 million, isn't worth it.

Cost to elevate a portion of the Valley Line LRT would have been up to $220 million

A concept drawing for an elevated LRT station on the east side of Bonnie Doon mall, looking north. (City of Edmonton)

Edmonton city councillors have rejected a $220-million plan to elevate a portion of the Valley Line LRT, and will maintain the status quo, saying the cost is not worth it.

"It was good to do the analysis and see that there's very small returns for huge cost," Mayor Don Iveson said Tuesday.

The cost is double the price to fix the railroad crossing at 50 Street, said Iveson, which he says will go a long way to resolving a major traffic headache for commuters.

Council's executive committee voted Tuesday to simply receive for information the report outlining the elevated track proposal, and not take any action.

The report presents the option of elevating the track along 83rd Street, east of Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre, from north of 90th Avenue to south of Whyte Avenue at a potential cost of $125 million to $220 million.

The raised track would speed up LRT trips by about one minute and shorten wait times for vehicles at intersections by 30 to 40 seconds, city staff told councillors.

Councillors voted to maintain the status quo with the project despite concerns raised by Coun. Ben Henderson about a possible "pinch point" where the LRT is forced to cross 83rd Street from one side to the other, east of the Bonnie Doon mall, stopping traffic in both directions.

"That's been the problem for us at Kingsway is you have to stop all four directions of traffic," said Henderson, referring to the Metro LRT line.

City staff said that pinch point can be managed by timing of the trains, and drivers taking other routes.
The timing of LRT trains, and traffic diverting to other routes will help deal with a potential pinch point at 83 Street, where the Valley Line LRT is to cross the street diagonally from west to east, said Adam Laughlin, head of infrastructure for the city of Edmonton. (Lydia Neufeld)

As well, there will be people opting to take the train, and the total impact of the LRT extension outweighs any potential impact, said Adam Laughlin, the city's head of infrastructure.

"Anecdotally we identify the LRT replaces six lanes of arterial traffic, so that's huge capacity for those travelling north-south," said Laughlin.

Replacing the Bonnie Doon traffic circle with a full intersection is still part of the overall plan. It was dropped in the report proposing an elevated track.

That's a big deal to Henderson, who believes it is time to remove it.

"Traffic circles are really good until they get to over capacity and they back up," he said.

There may be an improvement to traffic problems in that area simply with the work done on that intersection, he said.

However, there do need to be more ways created to move traffic east to west, other than Argyll Road and Whyte Avenue, added Henderson.

In Bonnie Doon, some residents expressed support for council's decision.

"Most cities that I've been to that have a light transit running on grade, it seems to run fine," said Keith Kostek. Traffic delays and things — but it's going to be a mess around here anyways so I would just as soon keep it at grade."

While Bill Damur agreed that the LRT shouldn't be elevated, he doesn't like the street level option either.

"I don't think it's a good idea because it will only offer gloomy shade," said Damur. "It's a bad idea to elevate it. Elevation is not the answer. Go underground, because we've got nothing to dig under."

Other Edmontonians took to Twitter to voice their opposition, pointing to other intersections where motorists are held up by the LRT.

"Brutal decision. No lessons learned?" asked Brad Pshyk.

"[City council] refuses to learn from experience so Bonnie Doon will join growing list of #yegtraffic #yeglrt disaster areas," wrote Noel Xavier.

CP Rail has removed some of its rail line between Whyte Avenue and 63rd Avenue, leading to speculation from area businesses that 76th Avenue could be pushed west from 100th Street to Gateway Boulevard.

CP Rail has not revealed any plans for that land.

"I'm not sure this would solve the problem," said Henderson, adding residents along 76th Avenue may be very unhappy with this idea.

As well, 76th Avenue was designed as a collector road, not an arterial road, he added.

While it didn't make sense to elevate this portion of the Valley Line LRT, that doesn't mean the city will not consider elevating the line as it expands to the west, added Iveson.

City officials are investigating whether to raise or tunnel the track at two locations on the west, north and south extensions, which are still in the design stage.

Building the $1.8-billion southeast portion of the Valley Line between Mill Woods and downtown is expected to take another two years. The line will eventually link Mill Woods to Lewis Estates in the west end.

With Files from Andrea Huncar