Another small step forward for Edmonton’s Southeast LRT extension

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today introduced the new Building Canada Plan, “the largest long-term infrastructure plan in Canadian history, providing stable funding for a 10-year period.” The highlight of the new plan is the $14 billion New Building Canada Fund, a potential source of funding for projects like Edmonton’s planned Southeast LRT extension.

valley line lrt

Known as the Valley Line, the Southeast to West LRT extension would run 27 km from Mill Woods to Lewis Farms. The City hopes to construct the expansion in phases, starting with a $1.8 billion leg from Mill Woods Town Centre to 102 Street downtown. The City has already committed $800 million to the project, and now needs the federal and provincial governments to contribute their share.

Despite some opposition, City Council approved the use of a public-private partnership to build the extension, enabling the City to access funding through P3 Canada. In March last year, P3 Canada awarded $250 million toward the project.

Mayor Don Iveson

Though many details about the new Building Canada Fund are still to come, Mayor Don Iveson held a press conference this afternoon to discuss how it might help the City with the LRT expansion. In the ideal case, the City would receive another $150 million for the project, taking the total federal contribution to $400 million. Mayor Iveson said:

“That shows the federal government is seriously committed to investing in transit, maybe to not the level that mayors across the country would like, but it’s an opening to further discussion about the importance of national investment in transit infrastructure.”

Though he praised the efforts of the federal government, he also shared his thoughts on what he’d like to see in the future:

“Long-term, I would like to see a dedicated federal investment in rapid transit, over and above these baseline Building Canada commitments.”

Here’s the audio from Mayor Iveson’s press conference today:

If the City were to receive the funding it hopes to from Building Canada, that would bring the funding gap down to $365 million (the City has $235 million left over from Stelmach’s fund for green transit that mostly went to the North LRT to NAIT). The Government of Alberta needs to come to the table, and Mayor Iveson sounded optimistic that could happen:

“We’ll keep on talking to ministers and MLAs and we’ve been having a lot of those conversations lately and they’re very receptive. They’re working within their own constraints, and their own competing priorities, but I believe they’re trying to find a way.”

I’m much less optimistic. Both Calgary and Edmonton have made it clear that rapid transit is their top priority, but Premier Alison Redford’s government has consistently avoided making any commitments. Sooner or later, the province is going to have to either come to the table on LRT funding, or as David Staples wrote last month, “we need to elect a government that can make it happen.”

If the funding were secured by the spring, construction on the Southeast LRT could begin as early as 2016 with the extension opening by 2020.