Just five days after provincial finance minister Doug Horner was criticized for delivering a budget that was absent of additional funding to expand the south east section of the “Valley Line” of Edmonton’s LRT system, provincial politicians announced yesterday that it would commit $600 million towards the project.
Surrounded by city councillors and local Progressive Conservative MLAs, and awkwardly crammed into the narrowest section of the Churchill LRT concourse, Premier Alison Redford, Mayor Don Iveson and Mr. Horner announced the details of the the provincial government’s committment:
– up to $250 million under GreenTRIP over three years beginning in 2016-17 upon approval under the second call for GreenTRIP projects.
– up to $150 million in matching provincial funding if the federal government approves this project under the new Building Canada Fund beginning in 2016-17.
– up to $200 million in an interest-free loan to be repaid by the city over 10 years, fully backed by the Alberta Capital Finance Authority.
The announcement followed months of lobbying and public advocacy by Mr. Iveson, councillor Amarjeet Sohi and council members who unanimously made LRT expansion their first priority when they took office last October.
This is exciting news for Edmonton, as the City will now tender contracts and begin construction on the new LRT line next year. When it is completed in 2020, the Valley Line expansion through the south east into Mill Woods will provide LRT service to hundreds of thousands of Edmontonians.
It is, perhaps, not unintentional that much of the funding announced yesterday will be included in a budget that will be tabled immediately before the 2016 election. That budget, and this announcement, will play a defining role in the PC Party’s campaign for re-election.
Amid rumours of caucus dissent, the latest accusations that Ms. Redford used a government plane to attend a PC Party fundraiser and recent polling showing her approval ratings in the 20 percent range, the governing Tories are in desperate need of a public relations win.
Funding for LRT expansion is a big win for Edmonton, but the announcement alone might not be enough to convince Albertans to forgive the scandals that continue to dog the premier and her government.