Edmonton

Valley Line LRT to Mill Woods delayed 6 months, documents say

The southeast leg of the Valley Line LRT will open six months later than expected, according to documents obtained by CBC News. 

13-kilometre line expected to open in summer 2021 instead of December 2020

City documents show the Valley Line LRT will be delayed until mid-2020. (Stephanie Dubois/CBC)

The southeast leg of the Valley Line LRT will open six months later than expected, according to documents obtained by CBC News. 

The city's latest timeline had the 13-kilometre line that links Mill Woods to downtown opening on Dec. 15, 2020.

But a revised construction schedule from April 2019 obtained by CBC News through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act projects a "six-month delay to service commencement."

The schedule was part of a monthly project-status report prepared in May by SMA Consulting Ltd., a company hired by the City of Edmonton to help manage the project.

CBC News requested reports over a seven-month period starting in December 2018, but received only some of the reports.

As of last week, the City of Edmonton and TransEd, a consortium of companies constructing the line, would not commit to any specific timelines.

A rendering of the 13-kilometre Valley Line Southeast LRT, running from Mill Woods to downtown Edmonton. (City of Edmonton)

"The service commencement is trending late and likely will be delayed," said Brad Smid, the city's project director for the Valley Line LRT.

"At this point, we're not going to commit to any date beyond saying sometime in 2021."

As of Friday, the project is "over 60 per cent complete," Smid said.

TransEd contract manager Dallas Lindskoog said construction crews have "made a lot of progress in a lot of areas of the job," but that the project is still behind.

Everyone's disappointed when we can't deliver these things on the original target date that's set.- Brad Smid, Valley Line LRT project director

"We are trending late into 2021 for sure and we do expect that we will be done as soon as possible in 2021. We're working hard towards that, but certainly we will be a little bit late," he said. 

Unexpected concrete mass

The biggest construction delay for the $1.8-billion line was a large concrete mass found nine metres below the surface of the North Saskatchewan River during the Tawatinâ Bridge construction. 

Since then, TransEd crews have been trying to make up the lost time, Lindskoog said.

TransEd was able to make up some time, according to internal documents. The November-December 2018 monthly update to the city showed TransEd projected an eight-month service delay in its revised construction schedule.

The construction delay came as no surprise to Coun. Mike Nickel.

"When I originally asked for their charts, when things were going to roll out, so I could inform my constituents of road closures, utility reconnects and so on, they couldn't give it to me," Nickel told CBC News in an interview.

"So I knew right then and there, there was trouble. From my own construction experience, just watching the job site, I knew there were not enough people on site."

The city's history with LRT construction over the past decade should have been instructive, Nickel said.

"What we should be alarmed about is that, like I said before, before you build the west line why don't you fix the Metro Line? Finish the Valley Line before you spend $4 billion or $5 billion on the west line.

"If anything that has taught us about LRT construction in this city, it's not going smoothly. We're on fire, and it's time to stop and roll. How many more lessons do we need?"

Other delays

There are also delays in the shipment by Bombardier of the light rail vehicles (LRVs).

The 26 LRVs for the southeast Valley Line were supposed to be delivered to Edmonton by the end of November 2019, according to the January 2019 monthly report to the city.

Only seven LRVs were in Edmonton as of Friday, according to Smid.

"We're confident that we will have enough trains here for maximum service level. So we're not seeing lack of trains being a risk to starting service on the system," he said.

P3 penalties

The southeast portion of the Valley Line LRT is funded under a public-private partnership.

Any delays to the service start date means TransEd will be penalized, Smid said.

"There will be financial consequences and that's built into the P3 model. Taxpayers are protected by the risk transfer and those mechanisms in the project agreement," he said.

"We are disappointed. I know TransEd is disappointed. Everyone's disappointed when we can't deliver these things on the original target date that's set. But we have seen measurable progress and you know we're continuing to work to get this through to the finish line." 

As of Friday, the Valley Line LRT project is "moving from a civil road and rail construction" to the installation of overhead power for the trains and communication systems for the line, Lindskoog said. 

Lindskoog expects trains will be tested on the Mill Woods section of the line in early 2020.

with files from Natasha Riebe

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