LRT planning is premature

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The LRT meeting (on Saturday) was interesting. We found out that the City of St. Albert is building a new park and ride at the old Newman College site; the land is owned by the City of Edmonton. The park and ride plan, in principle, seems to be a good plan. We will spend $10 million on it with the provincial government spending $20 million. The money is still being sought from the province and not yet confirmed. The City of St. Albert is requesting the $20 million funding for our community that will be used outside of our city. The City of Edmonton wants to give us a 20-year lease on the land. Coincidentally this will be the hub for the LRT for the northwest leg in Edmonton.

But it is curious that at the meeting the Edmonton LRT was proposed and no concrete plan for the St. Albert route was proposed. Is the City of Edmonton going to renew our lease in 20 years on the land, or will they not renew and take the facility for their LRT station, effectively using our grant money for their future purposes and ownership? Would this then leave the St. Albert residents with the bill today for a facility that the City of Edmonton will eventually take over to defray the costs of their LRT Station?

It was interesting to note that the City of Edmonton with its present LRT is not happy with ridership as it is approximately 100,000 people per day; they are looking to get 200,000 people per day on it. They have a large population. We have a population of 60,000 people (small compared to Edmonton), and a current ridership of 4,000 people into Edmonton on weekdays and are trying to justify a cost of $350 million (today’s dollars) for maybe 6,000 to 8,000 people to ride into Edmonton per day in the future. How do we justify this to the federal government or the provincial government, let alone the St. Albert taxpayer for funding? We are spending $500,000 for the study the City of Edmonton is doing. Could the average person think that getting St. Albert involved in the LRT plan bolsters the City of Edmonton’s chance to move forward and get funding for the northwest leg?

Why wouldn’t the City of St. Albert decide to forget the LRT plan here and have our residents just use our present bus system or drive to the new park and ride and catch the LRT there? Using this idea, it would be worthwhile for St. Albert to build the park and ride and take the chance of losing ownership of it in the future. A $10-million expenditure for us to have access to the LRT is a lot better than a $350-million dollar expenditure we cannot afford. We would save millions of dollars. We would not have to expropriate lands and we would not have to limit access to businesses along St. Albert Trail. By not expropriating lands, we would avoid the lawsuits that would inevitably ensue.

We cannot justify this expense! The current population is moving outward for employment, not into the City of Edmonton, and with the industrial area being built in Redwater, the people moving here will be going north. Our population and employment prospects do not justify this. Our city council needs to look at cutting the costs we presently have and begin being more responsible to the taxpayer in St. Albert. We need to be close to retiring our long-term debt before we commit to a project that will cost more than all of the projects in St. Albert in the last 50 years. Council is raising our debt ceiling to put us farther in debt at an alarming rate.

It is ridiculous to be planning for something that is going to be 30 to 40 years in the future as we do not know what the costs will be at that time and we do not know what public transportation will look like at that time. With technology advancing at the rate it is, the LRT might be outdated. We should put this LRT discussion off until a later date when we have some concrete facts and know if the federal and provincial government would even participate in a project that does not justify the dollars at this time for our present population. As a St. Albert taxpayer, I can’t even fathom the debt load this would put on our city. Any responsible person or government would have to look at the facts and realize the only way our city could afford this would be to do raise our taxes in the near future at an unsustainable rate for the population. I am sure everyone in St. Albert would be pleased with this!

Our present council needs to be careful and listen to the taxpayers here in St. Albert and learn to be responsible with taxpayers’ dollars. Unfortunately, many of them have shown us in the last few years that they don’t understand the financial hardships many people are experiencing. Paying more in taxes takes money away from disposable income that equates to fewer dollars spent in the local market.

Ted Durham is a St. Albert resident.

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