Jason Meliefste stepped to the mic at Butler Memorial Park, acknowledged the traditional land on which the news conference was happening, and then shared a city-building story that has been quietly, safely and dramatically taking shape for months—even while the effects of COVID-19 dominate life in Edmonton.
“In other years, this might have been so much business as usual,” said Meliefste of a mid-season construction update during a pandemic.
“But this year business as usual is business as unusual. Thanks for joining us here in Butler Memorial Park today, one of 280 active infrastructure projects in the City of Edmonton today.”
Meliefste is the Deputy City Manager of Integrated Infrastructure Services for the City of Edmonton. His team gets things built here. As of June, 94 percent of the City’s capital projects are trending on budget, and 84 percent are on schedule.
More important than ever
Building, restoring and maintaining roads, bridges, sidewalks, parks, facilities, LRT and neighbourhoods will help Edmontonians now and in the future live and move and feel at home—and connect to each other, to businesses and to recreation.
The work, which is happening in all corners of the city, is more important than ever, said Meliefste.
“Advancing this work has provided for employment for over 10,000 people that will work directly on these projects,” he said.
📸 Quick tour
Here’s a quick tour of some of what’s on the go for the people of Edmonton.
Yellowhead Trail Freeway Conversion
Crews have begun widening Yellowhead Trail to three lanes in each direction from 61 Street to the North Saskatchewan River.
As this project continues, residents can expect to see a minimum of two lanes maintained in each direction during daytime hours. Most of the work widening westbound lanes is to be finished by the end of this year. Eastbound widening is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
To improve drainage along Yellowhead Trail—and minimize the impact to drivers while doing so—crews are using a giant auger to bore through the earth to place steel casings which will house new drainage pipes.
The entire Yellowhead Trail Freeway Conversion is to be done by the end of 2027. Yellowhead Trail is becoming a freeway with three lanes of free-flowing traffic in each direction.
The Groat Bridge rehabilitation work is on track to be completed by the end of fall 2020.
In order to keep the bridge open to traffic during the near-three-year construction, one side was demolished and rebuilt while the other remained in use with one lane of traffic each way.
The pedestrian sidewalk was reconfigured to account for the space needed for construction and the Gantry crane, seen in the pic above.
Traffic on the bridge remains one lane in both directions. Off-peak nighttime closures will continue and full daytime closures are planned for the end of September.
Valley Line Southeast LRT
The Valley Line Southeast will take LRT passengers from downtown Churchill Square to Mill Woods.
Steel columns and beams that make the structure at the stops and hold the wayfinding signs are being installed along the line.
The final sets of cable stays are being installed on the Tawatinâ Bridge (seen in the pic at the bottom of the post).
The Kâhasinîskâk footbridge has been lifted into place over Connors Road and crews continue to finalize the installation. Trains will pass beneath the footbridge.
Here’s a quick look at the fascinating footbridge story:
Closer to downtown, giant tunnels for the trains are in place.
The Valley Line Southeast is expected to open in 2021.
Meanwhile, work on Valley Line West LRT line is also under way. Much of that work happens underground where a large network of electric, gas, and telecommunications utility infrastructure is located. Utilities in some areas must be relocated to make easy for LRT infrastructure.
Both the Valley Line West and Southeast LRT will use low-floor urban style trains, which feature step-free boarding. Trains will run with traffic, and much of the lines will have no gates, bells, fences or crossing arms.
The Valley Line will be an urban-style 27-km line between Mill Woods in southeast Edmonton and Lewis Farms in west Edmonton.
The expanded LRT network will provide more transit options to more Edmontonians, and support Edmonton’s growth into a city of two million people over the next decades.
Safety is top priority
In all the projects, whether big or small, the commitment to safety—both construction industry best practices and new COVID-19 rules around hygiene and physical distancing—is firm.
“I want to assure you that we have proceeded safely,” said Meliefste.
In all the construction work, the City and its contractors are following the requirements of Alberta Health, ensuring construction sites are safe and sanitary and provide adequate space for workers and the public to maintain appropriate physical distance.
Metro Line Northwest extension
The Metro Line Northwest Extension Phase 1 from NAIT to Blatchford began construction in June. When finished, the extension will connect people to key destinations in the city, such as NAIT, the Royal Alexandra Hospital, major developments including Blatchford and Griesbach, services, shopping, workplaces and the city centre.
TLC for LRT
The City’s 40-plus year-old LRT network is also getting maintenance and upgrades to ensure it continues serving Edmontonians efficiently and reliably over the long term.
In May, the City began major maintenance and revitalization projects to the network. Since then, crews have completed several LRT crossing enhancements and upgraded the McKernan/Belgravia LRT Station Platform.
Work has also begun on the Stadium LRT Station Redevelopment project, pictured above, which is expected to be complete by January 2022. The station remains open for LRT customers.
Neighbourhood Renewal Program: on time, on budget
Construction work is also happening closer to home.
The City’s Neighbourhood Renewal Program has also been in full swing this summer with 16 Neighbourhood Renewal Projects now under way, including reconstruction in Highlands, Central McDougall, Alberta Avenue and Grandview Heights.
More than 100 km of roadway and sidewalk will be completed this year, and more than 10 km of alleys will be reconstructed.
The work is covered by 15 different contracts using seven contractors, each employing approximately 80 to 100 people.
“This pandemic won’t last forever and it won’t change the fact that Edmonton is still the growing and thriving city that we love, the city we care about and have chosen to raise our families in,” said Jen Rutledge, Supervisor, Building Great Neighbourhoods and Open Spaces.
“We are building a city that will sustain and support us today and 20, 50 and 100 years from now.”
Meliefste said the neighbourhood renewal work is on track to be completed on time and on budget.
Open spaces and parks
The construction work is also about building health.
“Parks and open spaces are vital to a community’s health,” said Meliefste. “These spaces provide places for people to play, gather and celebrate.
A total of 65 park projects were initiated for construction this year, with 13 already completed and being enjoyed by people of all ages.
One of the most innovative projects is the Jumpstart Inclusive Playground. It will include a playground, pathways, gazebo, picnic tables and lighting development on Clareview District Park with a gift in kind equipment donation from Jumpstart (Canadian Tire).
The City is currently working to deliver 16 playgrounds, including two natural playground projects at Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Dermott District Park, three spray parks, seven trail realignment or renewal projects, three sportfields and several larger profile parks, including Kinistaw Park, Beaumaris Lake Park Rehabilitation, Butler Memorial Park Renewal and the Capilano Park Parking Lot Renewal Project.
The City is also supporting seven community-led projects.
Potholes. Count em!
Crews are out actively repairing priority potholes while doing their best to ensure they maintain the required 2 metre physical distance and follow health and safety protocols.
“I am proud to report that since January of 2020, our crews have completed more than 309,905 pothole and asphalt repairs,” said Eduardo Sosa, Director of Infrastructure Maintenance. “This is an increase of 61,830 potholes from 2019. Last week alone crews filled more than 12,000 potholes.”
During this time, City bridge crews have also been busy. To date, there have been 117 bridge inspections and 107 bridges have been washed. Both numbers already exceed what was planned for this point in the season.
Meliefste said the City appreciates how building for the future can be painful for the present.
“It is not lost on us how frustrating construction projects can be for residents navigating their daily commute or for those working from home listening to work happening just outside their homes,” he said.
“We want to thank you for your patience during this unprecedented time in the sheer number of construction projects in our city, all in the midst of a pandemic.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day. (And they had milder winters and longer building seasons.)
Thanks for reading.
Editor’s note: Visit building.edmonton.ca. It’s the City’s enhanced map that provides the updated status on active capital projects. The pic above shows solid progress on the Tawatinâ Bridge, an LRT-pedestrian-bicycle connection over the North Saskatchewan River. Okay, one last pic. Here’s a young fan of construction vehicles on the Valley Line West. The City is building for today, but for the time of all young people in Edmonton, too.