EDMONTON - The west LRT line should follow Stony Plain Road to downtown rather than taking 87th Avenue to the University of Alberta Hospital as originally proposed, transportation officials say.
In 2008, LRT planners favoured going from Lewis Estates to Health Sciences station on 87th Avenue, with a new bridge across the North Saskatchewan River accessed by tunnels on either side of the river valley.
But that idea led to complaints by residents fearing disruption of their quiet neighbourhoods, and from Mayor Stephen Mandel, who felt there was more potential benefit to the city from a line along Stony Plain Road that would spur redevelopment.
At a news conference Thursday, transportation general manager Bob Boutilier unveiled a final recommendation for a west end route that now heads north from 87th Avenue on 156th Street to Stony Plain Road/104th Avenue, ending at the future MacEwan College station.
The change is due to a new emphasis on creating a more compact city that makes development opportunities the most important factor in deciding where LRT lines should be located, he said.
“The land-use potential is the critical factor,” he said.
“The old terms of reference that had been kicked around for three years were just not relevant.”
Other factors are efficient movement of people and goods, construction feasibility, and protecting neighbourhoods, the environment and the river valley.
While he admitted being concerned about not offering direct LRT from the west end to the University of Alberta area, Boutilier hopes to fill that gap with improved bus service.
He also released his department’s recommended southeast LRT route, which would link the downtown Quarters redevelopment to Mill Woods with a line through the river valley beside Louise McKinney Park that crosses the river on a new bridge, possibly replacing the current footbridge.
Trains would stop at the Muttart Conservatory, head out of the river valley beside Connors Road, go east along 95th Avenue, and turn south on 83rd Street-85th Street past Bonnie Doon mall down to Argyll Road, where they would curve over to follow 75th Street south to the Mill Woods Transit Centre.
Each proposal involves low-floor trains running at street level on dedicated rights-of-way, meaning several streets, particularly Stony Plain Road, would see traffic reduced to one lane from two lanes in each direction.
“(We’re) basically removing vehicles from the road if necessary … we didn’t want to buy any property if possible,” Boutilier said.
“The LRT or transit will take priority over vehicles. Where we have no choice, we will use the roads.”
The city will still have to purchase residential and commercial land in parts of both routes, primarily so trains can turn around tight corners.
The expected travel time to downtown from the two end stations is 20 to 25 minutes. Each route carries an estimated cost of $900 million to $1.2 billion, but no funding has been approved and any construction is years in the future.
Coun. Amarjeet Sohi, who has long pushed for an LRT to the busy southeast, said he’s excited the process is moving forward.
“This route, I think, is based on the criteria we gave the administration to look at, particularly for redevelopment of underused land and also transit planning,” he said.
“Looking at some of the other options that were ruled out, this choice makes the best sense.”
But Coun. Kim Krushell is worried west end commuters won’t be able to take the LRT to the U of A, where many of them work.
“What kind of ridership growth potential do you have from all those people living south of West Edmonton Mall, who could potentially go to Lewis Estates Transit Centre and get to their employment destination, which is the U of A and the U of A Hospital?” she asked.
“I was very surprised that 87th Avenue was not the chosen route, but I did not support the (route) criteria when it came to council.”
Pam Wojcicki, president of the Glenora Community League, said it is too early to say what the long-term impacts on the community will be if council approves the proposed route, although she would like to see more consultation with residents.
They have to ask people for their opinions and decide how to present them to the city, she said.
“Obviously, there is a balance that needs to be struck for transportation needs in the city of Edmonton as a whole, but there are some of pieces of the puzzle that are missing. I guess that is what will be explored in the next few months.”
Sue Murk, who has owned a home near 78th Avenue and 83rd Street for the last 25 years, said her biggest concern is that people in the area appear not to have been notified adequately.
Homes may have to be expropriated, she said.
“I can see both sides of the issue. I know it has to be done for future planning because they just can’t sit and do nothing. But I don’t like the way people were notified. They should have gone door-to-door and caught people at home with this information -- that is only fair,” she said.
“This is going to come as huge news to a lot of people.”
The two route recommendations will be discussed at a series of public meetings Sept. 21-30, then go to city council for a final decision following a public hearing in November.
Planners expect to complete a study next summer into the best downtown surface link between Churchill and the future MacEwan LRT stations, where the new LRT lines would end; the trains can’t use the existing track
With files from Florence Loyie