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City looks at capping cost of major Edmonton projects

Edmonton City Hall in an undated aerial photo. (CTV News Edmonton) Edmonton City Hall in an undated aerial photo. (CTV News Edmonton)
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City council is mulling ways to limit the cost of major Edmonton infrastructure projects to better budget for them and to potentially increase local jobs.

One city councillor says capping such costs could lead to more local jobs and better infrastructure.

A new analysis has found the city completes most of its biggest infrastructure projects on time and on budget, but that isn't translating to the largest, most complex projects such as the $1.8-billion Valley Line LRT, a private-public partnership (P3) undertaking that opened in November — five years after it was originally slated to start operation.

Tim Cartmell, the city councillor for Ward pihêsiwin who wrote a blog post on Thursday calling for the city to limit the size of projects, thinks when a project gets that big, it leads to costly miscommunications between managers and contractors.

He said he believes breaking up so-called mega projects into segments that cost millions, not billions, to build will allow more local companies to bid on them.

"When they get so big, then we're getting large consortiums that come ... and build these projects, and that often includes team members of those consortiums that come from some other place that are used to working on the $1-billion, $2-billion, $3-billion project," Cartmell told CTV News Edmonton on Friday.

"What I am saying is that when the projects get down to that $200-, $300-, $400-million (size), then it's the local contracting companies that deliver those, which means it's local people, people that live here, people that have made their living here, people that have built this city over time here that are doing the next project.

"I feel that makes a substantial difference in the performance of the project, I think there's local ownership that comes to play."

Cartmell also says he thinks the city could save money by building multiple recreation centres or fire halls using one template instead of drafting new designs each time, and that maintenance costs could come down by using more common materials for finishes such as siding and flooring.

"It's being pragmatic with the projects we select, being pragmatic with how we design them," he said.

"An arena is square. Let's make it square. It does not have to be dolled up and dressed up with all kinds of fancy flooring, fancy siding and fancy roofing, and a weird shape. Put two sheets of ice in it, put dressing rooms in the middle and let the kids play.

"Let's get back to that, and let's do that effectively time after time, and we will get the reputation back that the city knows how to retain contractors to deliver projects for us."

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said while the city needs "to look at best practices, absolutely learn from experts in this," taxpayers are "investing a lot of money" and should expect that investment benefits the community as much as possible.

"We're investing close to $6 billion in infrastructure," Sohi told CTV News Edmonton.  

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