News / Edmonton

Edmonton LRT Valley Line contract offers cost certainty, but community voices could be harder to hear

“It has always been my worry about a P3 that we might lose our ability that we usually have to deal with citizen concerns, as it goes forward.”

This rendering shows the future Churchill LRT station.

Supplied: City of Edmonton

This rendering shows the future Churchill LRT station.

The city’s next LRT line should be delivered on time and on budget, but it could have one major drawback, as one councillor worries the public-private partnership being used to build it could leave less room for community voices.

On Tuesday, city councillors got an update on the Valley Line, which will run from Edmonton to Mill Woods and Coun. Ben Henderson said he’s concerned the P3 building process might make it harder for citizens to be heard.

“It has always been my worry about a P3 that we might lose our ability that we usually have to deal with citizen concerns, as it goes forward.”

A P3, or public-private-partnership, gives the winning bidder the contract not just to design and build the line, but to oversee the whole process and operate it for 30 years once construction is complete.

The project’s winning bidder should be selected by early next year and once the detailed contract is signed, they will be in charge of bringing the line into service.

Henderson said that means when community issues inevitably come up, about construction noise or tree loss as examples, the city won’t be as involved as it would be with a normal contract.

“Part of the nature of the P3 is that you hand those decisions to them,” he said.

 Mayor Don Iveson said the city has always been aware the P3 process had this challenge and that’s why they’ve developed a detailed and rigorous contract for the Valley Line including community consultation.

“We’re mindful of all of those challenges and don’t want to lose those lessons we learned for good community engagement on both the south LRT line and the Metro line.”

He said the city can’t get bogged down in the details.

“We can burn an awful lot of staff time trying to please everyone or we can get on with building a city.”

A tale of two deals

The Metro Line and the Valley Line are both major LRT projects, but the arrangement with the contractor’s dramatically different for both projects. Here’s how the deal are different:

Metro Line
Cost: $665 million
Contract: The city contracted one contractor to build the line and another to do build the signaling system, both with a standard contract. The contract allows the city to withhold final payment until the work is done, which it’s currently doing with signal contractor Thales.
After completion:
Once the trains are finally up and running at full speed, the city will have relatively little involvement with the contractor. Thales could still provide maintenance for the system, but the relationship will be less involved.

Valley Line
Cost: $1.8 billion (estimated)

As a P3, the winning contractor will have a 30-year relationship with the city and will lose payments if the line isn’t ready on time. While the city is giving a lot of specific parameters, the contractor will build the system, do final design on the line and even select the trains that carry passengers, with limited public involvement.  

After completion:
The city’s relationship with the contractor won’t end when ribbons get cut and the first train glides down the track. The winning company will operate all the trains and perform maintenance for 30 years.

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