Things were looking up for LRT expansion in Edmonton. As recently as a few weeks ago, Mayor Iveson sounded optimistic that the Province was going to provide money for LRT. Other members of City Council had also received positive indications from the Province. But talk is cheap, and the Province didn’t follow through with today’s budget, as Mayor Iveson made clear:
“Not in a position to celebrate anything today at this point. Little bit of disappointment that yesterday’s message and really the message our Council has been consistent about since last year hasn’t quite gotten through yet.”
The Province unveiled its 2014 Budget this afternoon, saying it “delivers the core services Albertans expect, makes strategic investments in innovation to improve the lives of Albertans today and into the future, and strengthens new and existing infrastructure to address the demands of our growing province and economy.” Unfortunately, LRT was not deemed a priority as evidenced by the complete lack of commitment to funding its ongoing expansion in Edmonton and Calgary.
The original GreenTRIP fund of $2 billion, created by the Stelmach government in 2008, has not been increased. MSI funding increased slightly, but not nearly enough to fund the LRT expansion to Mill Woods. Besides, as Mayor Iveson again pointed out today, Edmonton has a need for LRT funding on top of all the things that MSI funding is used for in other municipalities – building libraries, recreation centres, etc. The lack of increase in GreenTRIP funding was especially disappointing to the mayor:
“My interpretation of long-term commitment to GreenTRIP isn’t just saying we’re going to roll out all the money we announced serveral years ago by 2019 and announce this year’s money like its new when its actually money that we’re putting into the NAIT line today because its money that was announced previously.”
He clarified yet again what a long-term commitment would look like:
“For me, a long-term commitment to transit would be an open-ended or ten year commitment to sustained levels of funding for rapid transit expansion in our province.”
The reaction from local leaders was disappointment, as expected. “There’s no new commitment to transit here,” Mayor Iveson said.
There are two key risks the City faces by not receiving funding for LRT expansion from the Province. The first risk is that we miss yet another construction season, which could add around $65 million to the total cost of the project. The City has a deadline of April 30 to try to get all of the necessary funding in place. If that date isn’t met, then the completion of the Southeast LRT expansion by 2019 is in jeopardy.
The second risk is that the federal funding Edmonton has applied for under the P3 Canada program could be at risk if construction doesn’t begin by the end of 2015. “There is a timeline on the P3 grant,” Mayor Iveson said. “If we were to lose another year, then we would potentially begin to lose some of the federal funding, and then we’d really lose momentum.”
But the biggest issue here is that the Province made noise about a long-term commitment to LRT, and simply hasn’t delivered. Mayor Iveson expressed his frustration with this:
“Frankly I received a lot of mixed messages from the Province over the last six to eight weeks, that we’d be happy, that we should manage our expectations, that we’d be satisfied, that we’re asking for too much, and often from the same people, so that is a frustration.”
Still he tried to remain optimistic, adding, “that just tells me that things are fluid still.”
If there wasn’t already a trust issue between City Council and the Province, there most certainly is now. Conversations can only be considered productive if they actually lead to an outcome that all sides are happy with. If the Province wasn’t prepared to make a commitment now, they should have made that clear to the mayor and the rest of Council.
Asked what he thought about his first provincial budget experience since taking office, Mayor Iveson sighed audibly. “That’s what I think,” he said. Ever the optimist, he said he remained dedicated to working with the Province to find a positive outcome for the city. “I think they’ve figured out in the last 24 hours that we really mean it, this is really important to us.”