Why I Don’t Support the LRT Through St. Albert

LRT photo: LRT LRT.jpgThere are a variety of reasons why I don’t support funding the LRT alignment study unlike my council colleagues: Nolan Crouse, Cathy Heron and Wes Brodhead. My reasons for opposing spending money on the LRT all come back to basic common sense premises that can be summarized into three arguments.

Flawed Procedure
The motion put on the table was to spend $500,000.00 on a Site Allocation Study to determine the most viable route for LRT across St. Albert. However, no feasibility study to determine whether an LRT was even a feasible project for a city of our size has ever been completed. Since it is an elementary business practice to first determine whether a capital project is feasible before you decide to expend public money on such a project, I was not prepared to vote in favor of this expenditure on that ground alone.

Edmonton has not constructed any LRT line to St. Albert and for this obvious reason spending money on engineering studies for a proposed route through St. Albert is at best very premature. The motion calls for roughly $500,000.00 to be spent on planning a proposed route from the theoretical LRT terminus south of the Superstore and proceeding north to the Wal-Mart along St. Albert Trail. Why would we not wait until the LRT line is already at our doorsteps before spending money to plan a route through St. Albert?

This question really bothers me, especially since there is currently no federal or provincial funding for this potential Edmonton – St. Albert connection. In fact, the provincial and federal governments have told the City of Edmonton that there isn’t enough money available to complete the southeast LRT line that Edmonton is currently working on. Why would we expect to have the North LRT line built and ready to be extended through St. Albert any time soon when the Edmonton Southeast line has run out of funds?

There is no money promised or allocated from either the provincial or federal government for a St. Albert LRT line, nor is there any indication that the City of Edmonton is ready, willing or able to construct an LRT line to St. Albert’s borders. Why spend $500K for an LRT study when the most likely conclusion is that the LRT will not be coming to St. Albert for a very long time…if ever?

Economies of Scale
St. Albert is a community of roughly 60,000 people and the proposed LRT route from the Superstore to the Wal-Mart is approximately 8 kilometers for a total cost of 1.2 billion dollars (based on the current cost/km that Edmonton is paying for their LRT expansion). In terms of cost per household or per person this translates into roughly $50,000 per house using an estimate of 24,000 dwellings in St. Albert. Yes, that’s right, $50,000 per household or nearly $20,000 per person in St. Albert. This would become the most costly LRT per capita in North America to date and most likely for the entire globe. This would also be larger than a decade’s worth of the current budget for the City of St. Albert! Clearly the cost and scope of this project is far too large for a small city like St. Albert. The cost of constructing an LRT through St. Albert is simply too expensive for the size of the City of St. Albert and based on current growth rates our city will still be too small for at least another 100+ years.

I would only reconsider the possibility of voting to proceed with anything to do with an LRT line through St. Albert if the following condition precedents were met:

(1) a feasibility study was completed and it was established that this huge capital project is feasible for a city the size of St. Albert;
(2) there was some guarantee that Edmonton was going to build an LRT to St. Albert along with a proposed timeline for completion; and
(3) the provincial and/or federal governments have committed to providing substantial funds to assist in covering the cost of building the St. Albert LRT line.

To date these condition precedents have not been met.

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4 Responses to Why I Don’t Support the LRT Through St. Albert

  1. lynda flannery says:

    Cam, all good comments. It would also be worth noting that the City administrative professionals made a presentation to Council a couple of years ago…I think it was just after Mr. Boston returned to staff…that clearly said an LRT in St. Albert, was not a feasible option. You may want to get a link on your comment to this presentation. It’s already in the public domain through the Council presentation…but I can’t find it…perhaps its one of those things that isn’t on the Cities website for political reasons.

  2. I would also add that although LRT has served us well there is a very rapidly emerging technology that Google are spearheading, and beta-testing in California right now, that is predicted to transform surface transportation starting as soon as 2017 – which would be many years before any St. Albert LRT line is even finished being built. It is guaranteed to happen long before we finish paying back the cost of the LRT in the 2040’s.

    Automated (autonomous, self-driving, or driverless) vehicles are being developed by all the major automakers, but it is Google that appears to be the most advanced in their development. They use the existing road infrastructure, at no additional cost and when they are certified safe they will significantly improve road safety, free up driver time, improve road network efficiency and could aid the switch to electric vehicles and thereby reduce emissions and improve environmental and sustainability benefits. These vehicles will also be much safer around pedestrians and cyclists – thus allowing the promotion of these active transportation modes that will help improve our health.

    For the same cost as the LRT it would be possible to fund a sufficient number of fully automated vehicles to serve the entire St Albert population. Such a service could serve close to 100% of the population, rather than the approximately 10% that the LRT would serve. This would potentially transform the lives of many that currently have little or nor access to road (or other) transportation – such as some that are disabled, seniors that can no longer drive, the medically-at-risk, the un-licenced, too young etc. Whereas actually the cost of any automated shared fleet system will more likely be borne by private companies who can provide their service at a cheaper cost than the current transit services (which typically have 60% of their operational costs funded from the public purse).

    The potential to save huge amounts of public money on transportation appears to exist, and perhaps some of the $500,000 ear-marked for the LRT alignment study could be spent on investigating this impending paradigm shift, before we are committed to LRT spending which we will be paying interest on for many decades to come.

    Unfortunately this sort of thinking involves putting policy ahead of technology, and that is something that appears to be too high-risk for the vast majority public servants and the overall system of government at this moment in time. Yet this technology is coming, whether we like it or not – and if we don’t act quickly then the societal and economic collateral damage could be immense.

    Please note that the author of this comment is working with ITS Canada to help organize Canada’s first Autonomous Vehicle Summit in Ottawa in November, in order to raise awareness at all levels of government and with trade and professional organizations of the societal implications of this technology.

  3. Jeanine Au says:

    Thanks Cam for NOT voting for this study! Let’s use this money for more immediate needs!

  4. Jefferson Vinall says:

    Thank you for summing up your opposition to this pie-in-the-sky project. I frankly cannot fathom why any responsible member of government would agree to spend money so prematurely. When I asked another councilor about this issue several months ago, I was told that, “Well, we have to study it.” I was stunned that an elected official would offer such a poor rationale for spending public money.

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