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Terwillegar given green light, Lewis Farms deferred as city sorts budget shortfall
EDMONTON -- Terwillegar Drive upgrades will still happen, city council decided Friday, also choosing which major projects would not be so lucky in a city budget that is short $212 million.
Council has approved $103 million in upgrades to expand the corridor to four lanes in each direction—one of which will be a bus lane—as well as upgrades to the Whitemud Drive interchange.
The upgrades are a part of a $300-million plan for the area, and represent a switch from the city’s original focus on the intersections between Whitemud Drive and Anthony Henday Drive.
The change was necessitated, in part, the city says, by cuts of $183 million in the latest provincial budget.
“This essentially takes the money from the south half of that and puts it at Whitemud Drive at the Whitemud Drive-Terwillegar interchange, which allows us to do two things,” said Ward 9 Coun. Tim Cartmell.
“It hits the most congested part of that route, the north end of Terwillegar, and it also allows us to use that money and build upon the renewal project for the Rainbow Valley Bridge.”
Cash for the Rainbow Valley Bridge renewal is allocated in a separate budget.
Cartmell said it is vital Terwillegar be transformed into an expressway.
“This is a responsible use of dollars, far more responsible, frankly, than our freeway would be. It layers on transit. It layers on active transportation. I really think this will be the model we use going forward.”
A $30-million renovation to the Stadium LRT Station was also given the green light on Friday.
Tony Caterina, Ward 7 councillor, said the money will be used to bring the stop up to grade in safety and security standards.
“Capital Line is 40-some-odd years old—older than our mayor, older than some councillors—and we’ve been working at this for many, many years to get it in the queue,” Caterina said.
“This now gives me a lot of confidence that the improvement in the area will be well worth the investment.”
The costs of planning and design the upgrades have already been approved by the city. Cartmell was optimistic Edmontonians would see construction start in 2021.
Dollars to improve the Coronation Community Recreation Centre, Columbia Avenue and various transit centres were also approved.
Council postpones emergency op centre, cancels electric buses
Several projects found themselves on the losing side of the budget talks, including a $66.2-million emergency operations centre and an order of electric buses.
As well, the Lewis Farms Facility and Park was, as Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack described, put into limbo.
On Thursday, council passed his motion for work to make Lewis Farms tender-ready be finished, and then have the project paused until the third quarter of 2020. At that point, city will be given a report on how much it would cost to start construction.
“Finish what you’ve got, and let’s revisit this essentially in about a year’s time,” Knack explained.
He said it is possible the project would be given the go-ahead next year if it was found there was room in the budget, but said it was important it not be delayed for more than a year.
“If you start going beyond that time, then you have to take a step back again—and is that money you’ve put into it essentially throwaway?”
On the operating side of the budget, Edmonton Police Service also took a $7-million cut, and the alley renewal program will take an extra year to fund.
Council also decided city employees will have to curb travel for training, and a number of boards and services would see their budgets reduced.
Property tax increase slightly less than expected
The decisions mean a projected 2.6 per cent increase in property tax next year will now become 2.08 per cent.
Tax hikes in 2021 and 2022 are also expected to be lower, at 2.59 per cent and 2.32 per cent, respectively. The rates will be adjusted in the future.
Many councillors said they were proud of the trimming they were able to do and that 2020’s tax increase would have been 4.3 per cent without cuts.
However, Ward 3 Coun. Jon Dziadyk fears the city is still spending too much, specifically on the Coronation Centre project.
“Council has made some tough decisions already, but now that we’re into this, I’m just seeing that we’re spending, spending, spending,” he commented.
One per cent of the tax increase is dedicated to EPS as part of a funding formula. The rest is allotted for LRT expansion and growth in infrastructure and services.
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson