Relief for Stony Plain Road Businesses “Moving Slow As Cold Molasses”

Construction of the Valley Line West LRT continues to be behind schedule, causing frustration for business owners
West-facing view of Stony Plain Road construction

Business owner Marian Switzer looks out of the window of her 149th Street storefront and sees the same concrete barriers, heavy duty equipment and people in hi-vis vests that have been a fixture on Stony Plain Road for years.

Switzer, who owns The Gilded Rabbit art store, is one of many businesses owners along Stony Plain Road who is frustrated with enduring long-term construction in the borough as the City builds its Valley Line West LRT expansion.

Initially, Switzer said was told the entire project would last just a few years, but complications, including setbacks associated with COVID-19, delayed that timeline. In her most recent meeting with Marigold Infrastructure Partners — the firm contracted to complete the Valley Line West — Switzer says she was told the timeline has ballooned into the late 2020s.

I reached out to Marigold to ask about current timelines for the project, and efforts to offset the project’s impact on local business, but I did not receive comment by press time. However, according to the most recent progress report that’s been made publicly available — as of the end of 2023, “construction progress” on the Valley Line West was at 14.7 per cent.

“We’re already now two years behind the schedule they came out with initially,” Switzer said. “The side of the street they’re still working on was supposed to be finished, our side of the road was supposed to be finished and they should be laying LRT tracks by now.”

Construction on Stony Plain Road, west of 149 Street

Switzer said in her most recent correspondence with Marigold, she was told the project is now predicted to last until 2027, with testing of the LRT bleeding into 2028.

“It’s still quite a lot of time to go,” she said.

That’s led to a lot of hardship for businesses in the area. While other parts of the city continue to recover from COVID-19 inflicted lulls in businesses, many along Stony Plain Road have gone from one slowdown to another without much of a break.

“There’s been less foot traffic,” Switzer said. “We hear from customers that it’s so hard to get in here and that if they hadn’t really needed something specific, they wouldn’t have made the effort to come.”

That slowdown is perhaps most acutely evident in the businesses who have gone under during the longer-than-expected project. Todd Janes, executive director of the Stony Plain Road Business Association, said that in the neighbourhood’s hub between 151st Street and 154th Street, 25 businesses have closed.

“If you look at what was our core … there were about 42 businesses. Now we have 17,” he said.

Despite those hardships, Janes said many in the area remain hopeful about what the finished project will bring to the area — higher residential density, greater access to the district via the Valley Line West transit line and, hopefully, a reinvigorated retail centre — but remain frustrated with the way the project has been handled thus far.

“I think any type of trust in this project has eroded,” Janes said. “We went in with a really good attitude, knowing there were going to be rough times … but when no deadlines were met and communication wasn’t great, I think we’re at a point where very few people trust what’s being said because they’ve been given wrong information [in the past] and that creates a difficult environment.”

While trust may be on shaky ground between Stony Plain Road merchants, the City and its contractors, there have been efforts by some on council to try to offset the financial impact the project’s sluggishness has caused. A motion to explore financial compensation via tax breaks for affected businesses, spearheaded by Coun. Andrew Knack, passed narrowly last October. This month, a report from the City outlining the implications of such a policy, mirroring the delays of the Valley West Line expansion, was deferred until late August.

“It’s moving slow as cold molasses trying to run up a hill,” Janes said.

Janes said there’s still a lot of hope and grit in the community, despite the challenges the construction has brought, adding that he’s proud of the area’s resilience.

“With the construction, it’s going to be great when it’s finished, but it’s weathering through it. It can grind you down,” he said. “Is there hope? Absolutely. Is it painful? Absolutely. What can readers do? They’re doing it. Keep patronizing businesses.”