Policy in brief
LRT expansion is a major priority for Edmontonians. Council must continue to drive significant development of the full network, but it needs to be paced well and engineered in a way that allows for traffic to continue to flow. By 2017, we will have secured funding and begun construction on the Southeast to West line, bringing LRT to new areas of the city.
What we’ll do in the short term
Begin to plan for a full build-out of the network by 2030, focusing next on the SE line to Mill Woods line. Edmonton should not be paying more than 1/3 of the costs of our network, given how economically important it is for not only us, but the province and federal government as well. When building the line, we must think carefully about where we can put underpasses and overpasses to ensure we do not adversely interrupt the flow of vehicle traffic. Where possible, we should examine development of air rights to help offset the costs of those overpasses and underpasses. To ensure we have sustained funding to build our LRT, we will coordinate our approach to the province with our regional neighbours and Calgary to make the case for sustained LRT infrastructure investment.
Where we need to be a generation from now
LRT network is fully built out and we’ve got a high-speed rail to the airport. It will reduce traffic congestion for drivers, and help catalyze transit-oriented residential and commercial development in the city.
More thoughts from Don
Edmontonians need convenient and accessible transportation choices to get to work, school, shopping, recreation and service centres. Particularly in the last six years, there has been significant excitement around the growth of our LRT system and the plans we have for it. If elected mayor, steadily expanding Edmonton’s LRT network will be a major transportation focus for me, right alongside getting our roadway infrastructure fixed. Finding a way to steadily build LRT will also be one of the major challenges that face this new council and many that come after it.
Building out the LRT is likely the most transformative thing we can do in this city over the long term. A well-built LRT network moves as many people as an eight-lane road, opens up significant affordable housing choices around the city and provides commuters with reliable routes into downtown and other key economic centres. With a complete LRT network, we can provide our downtown with a major advantage and make it more desirable to for businesses to locate there.
I’d like to see Edmonton’s whole LRT network built out by 2030. I see it developing like this: completing the SE line from Mill Woods to Downtown by 2019; by 2021, I’d like to see the line out to West Edmonton Mall finished, and the NW line heading up to Griesbach at 137 Ave and pushing further Northwest into Castle Downs. After that, further extensions south and northeast should finish off the network.
However, LRT build out should not be an “at-all-costs” priority for council. Like any other major infrastructure project the city takes on, pace and caution are key. So is an appropriate funding model. Entire LRT lines are not good candidates for significant debt financing – the city should not hold that much debt for a single project at one time and given the multi-decade nature of the build-out, we’re likely to hit periods where higher interest rates make borrowing for a whole new line cost-prohibitive. Edmonton simply cannot pay for its LRT network without the partnership of the provincial and federal governments.
For instance, building the next leg of our LRT network — the Valley Line between downtown and Mill Woods — will cost around $1.8 billion. City Council has already committed to borrowing up to $800 million. As mayor, I would insist that Edmonton pays no more than 1/3 the cost of our LRT. This isn’t a matter of just not wanting to pay; the economic growth and additional investment Edmonton can attract as a result of higher-density neighbourhoods around LRT, improved viability for business growth in the downtown, and other key areas will benefit the province and the federal government through income-tax revenue and other benefits of economic growth in Edmonton.
Ensuring cars and trains can co-exist
From a practical standpoint, as mayor I’ll make sure that our LRT build-out reflects the valuable lessons of our recent expansion. We know from our South LRT experience that trains moving through intersections on major roadways can significantly disrupt traffic flow. As mayor, I’ll ensure that as we build more LRT that we have a stronger understanding of how traffic will be impacted and where it makes sense to build overpasses or underpasses at those locations (such as 137 Ave/113 Street, or Stony Plain Road/149 Street) to keep all travellers in our city moving. I don’t want to see Edmontonians adding significant time to their daily commute because they’re stuck waiting for peak-hour trains to pass. This is where the local knowledge of each ward councillor will come in handy. Personally, my priority will be pushing to find locations where we can install an underpass and underground station, with sufficient building density right above the underground station to help offset the costs of the underpass construction.
This concept is often called ‘air rights’ in other cities, and it’s high time we explored finding win-wins like this in Edmonton. As mayor, I’ll work to explore this option with adjacent cooperating land-owners to build better Transit Oriented Developments with integrated stations, while ensuring the continued flow of goods and commuters on our roads.
Paying for it
So, how do we pay for this? This isn’t a matter of filling out a grant application. Most of our regional partners are keen to see LRT built for the benefit of their commuters, who access it by bus or with park-and-ride. Meanwhile, Calgary is steadily building out their C-Train network. Together, we will need to develop a solid case around the significant economic benefit of investing in such significant urban infrastructure — we need to show the provincial and federal governments that this is an important priority for Alberta’s big cities. As mayor, I will work from day one, using my existing relationships, to build a coalition within our region and with Calgary to make a stand for a long-term commitment to completing our transit networks.
Delivering LRT is a long, complex process. It has to work with our transportation network rather than complicate it, and it needs a set of solid partnerships and solid buy-in from the region, Calgary, the Legislature, and Ottawa to make it a reality. We can get it done, with a clear mandate from Edmonton electors.