The Valley Line West LRT will be the largest infrastructure project in Edmonton’s history. Work on this project started in 2007 and was one of the main reasons I decided to get involved with my community league and municipal government. When I ran for Council, securing the necessary funding from the other orders of government so we could begin construction was a major part of my platform in 2013 and 2017. On February 26th 2019, City Council voted in favour of spending $30.5 Million to review all the bids that will be presented by the companies looking to build the Valley Line West LRT. The expectation is that the contract will be formally awarded in 2020 and construction will begin at that point. There is a chance that some work may begin this year as the utility (ex: gas lines) relocation work will be completed separately and does not need to wait for the contract to be awarded.
During the discussion at our Council meeting there were a few concerns and I felt it was important to provide a response. Having a variety of perspectives is valuable when it comes to making informed decisions and given that we only get five minutes to speak to the item in Council meetings, a longer write up allows me to provide additional detail.
The topics I will be expanding on include:
- Travel time on the LRT
- Considering Bus Rapid Transit
- Emergence of new technology
- Functionality of existing LRT
- Information provided
One of the concerns raised was the travel time on the LRT and how that will compare to driving. Since the LRT has a dedicated right-of-way and will only stop at the busiest intersections (ex: Stony Plain Road/149th Street) if they are approaching a red light, we know the travel time from Lewis Farms Transit Centre to Churchill Square will be between 30-35 minutes. When I drive during rush hour from my home near the Jasper Place Library, my commute is typically 25 minutes on a good day and above 35 minutes on a bad day. What we often forget is that in 10 years, the LRT will have the same travel time while the drive time will have increased because our population continues to increase causing more congestion on roadways.
On opening day of the Valley Line LRT, the commute time from Lewis Estates may be similar to today’s driving commute, but we know congestion is only going to increase. This will cause an increase in driving commute time yet the LRT will provide a consistent commuting time regardless of congestion. Since the LRT can move the equivalent of 6-8 lanes of traffic, that provides us with the best opportunity to slow down the increase in congestion. Not providing mass transportation options like LRT will guarantee that driving commute times will increase faster than any other option.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
That leads directly into the next question raised which is the concept of BRT. If you haven’t had the chance to read this post from last year, please take a few minutes to read through it as it provides specific detail on the difference between BRT and LRT. As I note in the other post, I’m supportive of BRT and want to see it used in our city. The issue specifically with this route is that to move the same amount of people in a dedicated right-of-way would result in buses running every minute or so which would have a significant impact on the rest of the transportation system in the west end. Anyone that would still be driving a personal vehicle would see large delays because at the less busy intersections, the LRT will receive full priority and if we applied that same thinking to a BRT system, many of those intersections would not function properly with a bus coming through every minute during peak hours. For more details, please review the information in the link above but I want to make sure everyone is aware that we did complete a thorough review of those two options.
Another concern was the emergence of new transportation technology (ex: autonomous vehicles). Anyone who has been reading my blog posts for the past few years knows my passion for staying on top of this technology as well as other emerging transportation solutions. I actually had a similar concern about the possible impact of emerging transportation technology on LRT in this city and put forward a motion back in November 2017 to complete a detailed analysis of the emerging technologies. Here is a post I wrote on that topic as well for some additional context about the information I requested.
Last fall the report came back and it showed that while we are certainly seeing more and more options enter the market, we aren’t yet at the point where we should move to a new transportation technology. Even the trackless train that I reference in the blog post above is still going to take some time before it’s ready to be used here. What I took away from that report is that we should continue to stay on top of new technology, but also be bold in making decisions as there will always be something new on the horizon. The city is always considering new technology and much of the work around the route for mass transit can apply no matter the technology used to move people.
Functionality of Existing LRT
The status of the other LRT lines was raised as a reason to wait on the West LRT. If there are learnings that we can apply to future projects, then we will absolutely apply them. This is a regular occurence with city projects. Our City Administration continues to learn from other infrastructure projects and that work helps to inform future work. For more information about our project management changes over the last four years and how those changes have improved our performance, please review this link which includes all the posts I have written on project management.
If we only wait until a project has a perfect construction experience, we will likely never build anything else. Even though over 80% of our projects are on or ahead of schedule, many of those projects that finish on or ahead of schedule also have challenges that come up throughout the process and must be addressed. Our numerous changes to project management over the past few years are having a positive impact and although there are no guarantees the construction of the West LRT will be perfect, I’m confident that the processes in place will keep our risk to a minimum and therefore we should not be waiting on construction for infrastructure that should have been built decades ago.
The final issue I want to address is the point raised that we are lacking information. During my first term on Council, we asked for a review of the intersection performance at a number of key intersections along the West LRT route. I felt this review was necessary because even though the low-floor LRT operates in a very different way than our current LRT, the challenges we experienced with specific intersection performance along the Metro Line gave me reason to ask for that review. One of the key outcomes of that review was the decision to increase the budget so that the LRT could remain above ground at the intersection of 178th Street/87th Avenue.
I also asked for a review of how vehicle traffic could move along Stony Plain Road. The Stony Plain Road Business Improvement Area suggested that we look at turning Stony Plain Road into a one-way road along with the LRT. After a detailed analysis and conversations with the local businesses and communities, a decision was made to keep Stony Plain Road operating as a two-way road upon completion of the LRT. The above are just a few examples of the additional information we have been analyzing since the route decision was made back in 2009.
Being this is such a major infrastructure project, if any member of Council feels they are lacking the necessary information we thankfully have a simple solution: a motion can be made at any future Council meeting to request that additional information.
In many cases, one of the easiest things to do as a Councillor is simply to vote ‘no’ to a project or a request. What is much harder is putting forward motions that have a clear alternative or request the necessary additional information to feel comfortable in making the most informed decision possible. I never expect there to be universal support for any decision but I do hope that if any member of Council ever has a concern about a particular decision, that they take the opportunity to ask for the information that they feel is needed to make a decision.
Work on the Valley Line West LRT has been occurring for over a decade. This is not a project that has been rushed. In fact, I’m often asked by people when it will finally start serving us in the west end. It’s time for us to build proper mass transit out to the west end of the city so we can more easily move throughout the city. Not building mass transit to all parts of Edmonton ensures that people will take longer and longer to reach their destinations. That means less time to spend with family, friends, and community. I’m confident in the many years of work that has taken place and I’m looking forward to everyone having the opportunity to use the LRT as soon as possible.