Should One Station Be Sacrificed for the Other to Survive?

That's the question Jennifer Rice will be asking as City Council debates major changes to the Capital Line extension south

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There is pressure from all sides when it comes to the City’s planned $1.085 billion expansion of the Capital LRT line south from Century Park to Ellerslie Road.

The City had a plan in place. Two stations — at the Twin Brooks neighbourhood and then a stop at the Heritage Valley transit centre, just north of Ellerslie Road. The Heritage Valley station would be elevated — so, when the line would be extended once more, it would be set up to pass over Ellerslie Road, rather than cross it at street level.

But, the City is now wrestling with the fact that, thanks to inflation, $1.085 billion didn’t buy what it used to — and council will debate a series of alterations to the project, including lowering the LRT to street level at Heritage Valley and ditching a plan to add Park & Ride spots at that station.

Jennifer Rice, the councillor for the Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, which is home to both of the new planned LRT stations, said she will stand against any plan that will bring the Heritage Valley North Station down to street level and eliminate the planned 800 new Park & Ride spots.

“I have listened to my constituents, so I am going to ask the City to explore all options,” said Rice. “We need to find savings to stay on budget. But we need to build the Heritage Valley station so it is not at street level.”

She pledged to vote against any measure that would bring the Heritage Valley station — which was planned to be an elevated station — down to ground level. Rice said the City could consider mothballing plans for the Twin Brooks station — sacrificing one stop to keep the Heritage Valley North station plans intact.

“People have already started to phone my office and send emails to my office, and they say very clearly that a street-level crossing is unacceptable for us.”

There are really many issues at play here. And it will be a challenge for City councillors to wade through them all when they discuss the suggested changes to the Capital Line extension. That’s on the agenda for May 3; it was moved back from mid-April, partly so Rice could hear from the affected communities.

A report from city administration, which will be looked at by City Council on May 3, lays it out pretty clearly: “The outcome of the updated estimate was that the forecasted project costs had escalated beyond the initial estimate and approved project funding.

What could change:

  • The Heritage Valley Park & Ride plan would be deferred.
  • The planned Heritage Valley North Station would no longer be elevated; this means that a further extension south would have the trains cross Ellerslie Road at street level, rather than via overpass.
  • A planned order of 24 light-rail vehicles would be reduced to “bare minimum” required for service.
  • A reduction in size of a planned storage garage from a capacity of 50 rail vehicles to 40.

But, why sacrifice Twin Brooks?

This past winter, the city surveyed residents — focused on Twin Brooks — about how informed they were about the planned LRT. Sixty per cent of the 1,788 responses came from Twin Brooks residents.

And, while it wasn’t a question that was asked on the survey, 57 per cent of Twin Brooks residents wrote in the comments section that they don’t want to see the station built at all. Concerns about crime and vulnerable populations topped their list.

Also, there’s no parking planned for that station.

Rice said that Twin Brooks residents have told her they’d like to see decisions on the Capital Line extension deferred until issues with the delayed Valley Line extension are finally cleared up, and that crime issues on Edmonton Transit are addressed. The province has announced plans to hire 100 new police officers to focus on transit systems in Edmonton and Calgary.

Rice said reports of collisions between vehicles and test trains at unregulated crossings on the Valley Line extension are also fueling her constituents’ desire to ensure that the LRT does not cross Ellerslie Road at street level.

“They ask why we’d build at street level on an even busier road, based on existing traffic conditions.”

And, she said that with the southwest being one of the fastest-growing areas of the city, Ellerslie Road will be even more congested when it finally comes time to extend the LRT across it.

But, with each delay, inflation pressures up the costs of the project even more. The more the City waits, the more expensive the estimates. Rice is hopeful the City can find understanding partners in the province and the feds — who will both understand the original cost estimates for the LRT are no longer valid.

“If we wait four years, five years, later, the costs will change again,” said Rice. “My hope is we can find more support from the province and the federal government as well. When the funding was announced, that support was based on that time’s economic condition and what they thought costs could be.

“We cannot look at this in the short term. What we do now will impact the next generation.”

The province is spending $300 million and the feds are contributing $400 million to the project.