Scrap it or build it?: Mayoral hopefuls face-off on West LRT dispute

Five candidates hoping to become Edmonton’s next mayor debated the future of the $2.6 billion West LRT expansion Thursday morning - with two candidates in favour of hitting the brakes on the project.

Candidate Cheryll Watson wants the city to cancel the project - even though the planning work is done and preliminary construction is already underway.

“We need to get back to basics. We need to focus on how we get people from where they are to where they need to be and that doesn’t mean large investments into large, long-term infrastructure projects right now,” Watson said, while talking about improving bus service instead.

The debate happened during a mayoral forum hosted by The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

The 27-kilometre extension to the Valley Line would connect Churchill Square and West Edmonton Mall.

Candidate Mike Nickel has previously called the project “the worst business decision in Edmonton's history,” but stopped short of saying it needs to be cancelled, instead that it should be “reviewed.”

“There is no deal that cannot be undone, but it’s just a question of how bad the bill is going to be (in contract cancellation penalties),” he said.

SOHI SAYS BUILD MORE LRT

Candidate Amarjeet Sohi promised he’d not only get the West LRT built, but would add new rails and new stops.

“I’m the only candidate on this stage that has unwavering commitment to get the LRT built to the west end, to the southwest and eventually to Castledowns - a community that has been waiting for two decades to get the LRT,” the former bus driver turned politician said.

Candidate Michael Oshry pointed out that 70 per cent of Edmontonians still drive, and suggested he’d spend most of the city’s money on roads.

Still, he doesn’t think cancelling the West LRT now is smart or even possible.

“The contracts have been signed, the land has been bought, the businesses expropriated. Other levels of government have funded it…so that’s going to be done. We have to make sure it’s done on time, on budget,” Oshry said.

He added he’d focus on growing developments near the stations to help pay for the investment.

Candidate Kim Krushell also has concerns with the West LRT project - but thinks it’s too late to renegotiate.

“We are locked into a contract on the West LRT and I realize that we need to get it done on time and on budget, and we need a rail car deal with our LRT system,” she said.

Krushell said she’d also work on improving bus service in north Edmonton, an area she believes has been “totally, absolutely ignored” in the city’s new on-demand transit service.

Diana Steele, Rick Comrie, Brian Gregg, Augustine Marah and Vanessa Denman are also on the ballot but were not at the forum.

Edmonton’s election is on Monday, Oct. 18.