West & Southeast Edmonton LRT Route Recommendations

This afternoon Edmonton Transit announced its recommended routes for West and Southeast LRT lines. The routes “work towards the Transportation Master Plan’s vision to expand LRT service to all sectors of the City of Edmonton by 2040.” Back in June, City Council approved the LRT Network Plan, which identifies how the LRT system will be expanded. These two routes are part of that plan.

Here’s what the recommended routes look like (click for a larger image):

There was a lot of information shared during today’s briefing, which I did my best to live-tweet. Here are some of the highlights:

  • This is not the LRT you’re used to – it’s low floor technology with smaller, urban style stations.
  • Initially, there are seven stations planned for the West LRT route and six for the Southeast LRT route.
  • The two routes are actually part of a single line, which means you’ll be able to travel from Mill Woods to Lewis Estates without any transfers.
  • Travel time from either end to downtown will be 20-25 minutes. Both speed and carrying capacity is expected to be the same as the current LRT line.
  • The estimated cost for each route is between $900 million and $1.2 billion.
  • Short-to-medium term ridership for each line is expected to be 45,000 riders per day by 2040.
  • Though bus routes will almost certainly be eliminated, service hours will likely remain the same and will simply shift elsewhere (so in effect, the LRT is making the bus system more efficient).
  • The downtown connection still needs to be considered.

The routes were evaluated based on a new set of decision-making criteria established in December 2008 for LRT route planning. Initial screening looks at feasibility, community, and environment. The next stage is the specific evaluation criteria, with weights in brackets:

  • Land-use/Promoting Compact Urban Form (4)
  • Movement of People/Goods (3)
  • Feasibility/Construction (2)
  • Parks, River Valley and Ravine System (2)
  • Social Environment (2)
  • Natural Environment (2)

Southeast LRT

Recommended Route
Route Options

The Southeast LRT corridor travels north from Mill Woods Town Centre on 66 Street, continuing north on 75 Street. It then uses Wagner Road to extend either over or under the CP Rail line to 83 Street. From there, it proceeds along 83/85 Street north to 95 Avenue, then along 95 Avenue to Connors Road with the route crossing the North Saskatchewan River, either replacing the Cloverdale footbridge or adjacent to it, and east into downtown to connect to the proposed Quarters development, providing a surface (street level) connection to Churchill LRT station, ultimately connecting to Grant MacEwan College.

Major potential stations: Muttart Conservatory, Bonnie Doon Mall, Grey Nuns Hospital, Mill Woods Town Centre

Key benefit: Direct link to downtown, minimizes traffic impacts to Connors Road.
Key weakness: Neighbourhood disruption.

West LRT

Recommended Route
Route Options

The West LRT corridor goes from Lewis Estates east along 87 Avenue, then north on 156 Street. It connects to downtown via Stony Plain Road and 104 Avenue, providing a surface (street level) connection to Grant MacEwan College.

Major potential stations: MacEwan, Oliver Square, Jasper Gates, MacEwan Arts Campus, Jasper Place, Meadowlark Shopping Centre, Misericordia Hospital, West Edmonton Mall

Key benefit: Direct connection to downtown, opportunity to transform Stony Plain Road into a transit corridor for west neighbourhoods.
Key weakness: Impact on established neighbourhoods.

Discussion & Analysis

At this point, I’m simply happy to see this moving ahead. The South LRT expansion has been going well, and it’s important to keep momentum and interest. The West LRT route has definitely been the more controversial of the two, and I don’t see that changing (which likely means that the Southeast LRT route will get built first).

I talked to Councillor Kim Krushell this afternoon to get her thoughts on the recommended routes. While she too was happy to see progress, she had reservations about the West route, telling me that she didn’t necessarily agree with the weighting of the evaluation criteria. “Some estimates put the number of people working at the U of A at 50,000 and the number working downtown at 60,000. The recommended route bypasses a major employment centre.” While she’s “not against the Stony Plain route” she will be asking questions to better determine if the Stony Plain route is actually better, and admitted that “the Oliver connection is appealing.”

That got me thinking about the impact of the West LRT route on the University of Alberta. While many who work in the area may not replace their vehicles with the bus, there’s a good chance they’d use Park and Ride and take the train to work. Students on the other hand, will almost certainly use the bus if no other transit option is available. I called Students’ Union President Kory Mathewson to get his thoughts: “The biggest impact for students is access to afforable housing. The more transit connections we have to the University, the more options students have.”

I expect to see a number of community meetings and town halls related to the West LRT route over the next couple of months.

What’s next?

This is far from a done deal, and there are a bunch of upcoming events you should know about. First up are a series of public information sessions taking place on September 21 and 23 for the Southeast LRT route and September 29 and 30 for the West LRT route (full details here). This is your opportunity to learn more and to ask questions.

Next is a statutory public hearing on November 9th, followed by a report back in December 2009. Concept engineering, which includes working with individual neighbourhoods to site stations, complete environmental analysis, planning a new maintenance facility site, and further defining the downtown connection, will take place from November 2009 through December 2010. It is during the engineering phase that details like home expropriation will be determined.

Funding is in place for a Lewis Estates Transit Centre and Park and Ride facility (with over 800 parking stalls). The Transit Centre is expected to be completed in March 2010, and the Park and Ride in July 2010.

Beyond that, a lot depends on the direction and priorities set by City Council. We should get some indication of their thoughts at the Transportation Master Plan public hearing taking place on September 14.

To keep up-to-date on these and other LRT projects, visit http://www.edmonton.ca/LRTprojects.

UPDATE: Thinking about the West LRT a little further, does it matter that it doesn’t go directly to the University of Alberta? By the time it’s built, the Quesnell Bridge will be widened and express bus service from West Edmonton Mall to the U of A will likely be quite fast.