Building safely in pandemic times is City’s priority #1

The City of Edmonton’s first priority since the outbreak of COVID-19 has been everyone’s safety and wellbeing. 

As the pandemic unfolded, the City worked behind the scenes to respond appropriately and ensure that this priority was at the centre of everything we do. It requires creative thinking and close coordination and cooperation to meet those challenges head on. 

Meeting the challenge

It’s what has been guiding the City as we’ve worked to ensure critical LRT construction work can proceed without major delay—to both take advantage of the quieter streets and also to provide opportunities for industry partners and citizens to work safely and help us build our city. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented and unexpected challenges for many aspects of our work, but it’s also been an opportunity for us to work closely together and advance our key infrastructure priorities safely and effectively,” said Jason Meliefste, Deputy City Manager for Integrated Infrastructure Services. 

“Those efforts are the reason we’ve been able to continue safely building our city every day on behalf of Edmontonians.”

Construction at the new Mill Woods Transit Centre

Safety and coordination

Ensuring a safe and coordinated approach has been especially important for construction work happening near hospitals. As the pandemic unfolded, the City considered approaches to minimize construction impacts near these major health facilities. 

Many projects were put on hold, but select projects were able to go ahead, thanks to a strong coordinated effort between the City and external partners such as utility companies, contractors, emergency services and health authorities. That cooperation ensured the proper protocols were in place to allow certain construction work to safely proceed while also ensuring the hospitals remained accessible and able to respond to any surges in demand caused by COVID-19. 

Valley Line West LRT

Take Valley Line West LRT, for example. This transformational project has been identified as a key transit priority by City Council and construction is set to start in earnest in 2021. 

An artist’s rendering of Misericordia Station on the Valley Line West LRT

Before that can happen, key work has been happening along the LRT route, including a utility relocation project in April next to the Misericordia Hospital that required the partial closure of 170 Street near West Edmonton Mall. Under typical circumstances 170 Street is a busy artery, but when COVID-19 became a reality and most of us stayed home to flatten the curve, traffic on the streets went down by about 50 per cent. It created an opportunity to do the work at a time when far fewer people would be impacted while commuting to work or accessing businesses, provided we could do it safely. 

The City balanced the construction needs with the need to maintain access to the hospital, and engaged key stakeholders, including ambulance services, Edmonton Fire Rescue and healthcare partners, in those plans and discussions. We adopted appropriate mitigation efforts, including the ability to quickly restore the road if the need arose. The close and careful coordination—and a few weeks of good weather—helped ensure the work could happen efficiently and safely. While the project was originally scheduled to last six weeks, it was finished more than three weeks ahead of schedule.

Mill Woods Transit Centre

Another example of this coordination is construction on the Mill Woods Transit Centre, which is expected to be completed this year. The City is replacing the existing transit centre to offer a closer connection to the future Mill Woods Stop on the Valley Line Southeast LRT. Utility work happening now has required the closure of Hewes Way south of 28 Avenue. 

Construction on the new Mill Woods Transit Centre is expected to be completed this year

Construction on the new Mill Woods Transit Centre is expected to be completed this year

With the Grey Nuns Hospital nearby, the project team knew it was critical to ensure first responders could efficiently move through and around the construction site. The closure is being managed in phases to ensure local businesses remain accessible for emergency vehicles. The team is also working closely with City partners, healthcare stakeholders and our contractor for the project to ensure that access to the nearby hospital is maintained and that any concerns are addressed quickly. It’s another example of how the City of Edmonton prioritizes safety beyond just personal protective equipment and construction practices. 

Staying on track

There’s no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work. Keeping City projects on schedule and on budget amidst these changes is a balancing act. That’s why we’re staying focused on continuing to build Edmonton for today and the future while maintaining everyone’s safety in the process.