Despite the collapse of energy prices over the past year, infrastructure spending will remain a priority in Alberta. As former Alberta premier Jim Prentice explained before unveiling his proposed budget, "We're still expecting 80,000 new Albertans this year, and they won't be bringing schools, hospitals or roads with them."
Right now there is nearly $10 billion worth of major infrastructure projects in progress. Many of these—including the work on Anthony Henday Drive in Edmonton, the International Transborder Concourse in Calgary and twinning of Highway 63 in the northern part of the province—are old news, but four projects are yet to begin.
Here's a look at what's happening and when.
Valley Line LRT
Cost: $1.8 billion
When the first leg of the Valley Line opens in 2020, Edmonton residents will see a very different type of LRT. The City of Edmonton has chosen state-of-the-art low-floor vehicles for all new LRT lines, and they'll be running on the 13-kilometre line to be built between downtown and Mill Woods.
"It's a different vision of what LRT will be in Edmonton," says Brad Smid, project manager. "These trains are designed to integrate into communities and roadways and be less intrusive."
The mechanical equipment of the trains in the current system is located in the bottom of the vehicle. The new low-floor trains have mechanical equipment on the roof so that passengers can board at street level. They are predominant in Europe and have been appearing in North American cities.
"Any LRT system starting today uses the low-floor technology," says Smid. "The infrastructure is minimal compared to the existing system."
The Valley Line will have its own right-of-way and will be separated from or elevated above traffic in some sections. In other areas it will cross roads and sidewalks at grade. Grade crossing hazard analysis will be done to identify what's required for safe traffic control, but it's expected that most intersections will be managed with traffic lights.
"The trains will run at slower speeds, about 50 kilometres an hour, so rather than having gate arms and warning bells and lights, trains will slow down at green lights and proceed through intersections with caution," says Smid. He goes on to say that there will be systems in place that allow train operators to call as they approach an intersection to get a green light when they arrive, but there will be some intersections where the trains will have to stop at red lights.
The project includes 11 street-level stops and one elevated station. Street-level stops are being designed to incorporate minimal infrastructure so they blend into the community and may be as simple as a raised curb and sidewalk with a shelter. A new park-and-ride station at the intersection of Wagner Road and Davies Road will have 1,400 parking spots and barrier-free access.
Other elements of the project include a new bridge to replace a pedestrian bridge and a new operations and maintenance facility.
Asked about challenges, Smid says that they're faced with a bit of everything. "We have the challenges of building in a constrained downtown environment. We have a tunnel, so we have the challenge of dealing with ground conditions. In the river valley, there are environmental concerns that we need to manage carefully, minimizing our footprint and the duration of construction. And in the south there are a lot of communities we'll be impacting so we need to make sure we're communicating and maintaining access."
The city is providing $800 million in funding while the province has agreed to provide $400 million in funding and another $200 million in a 10-year interest-free loan. The federal government is also contributing $400 million.
Three teams have received a request for proposals and are now preparing bids for designing, building, operating, maintaining and partially financing the line. Final bids are to be submitted in the fall, and the city expects to have an agreement finalized early in 2016.
Major Neighbourhood Renewal Program
Cost: $615 million
The Neighbourhood Renewal Program will see the City of Edmonton complete the renewal of 43 neighbourhoods and begin working on seven more within the next three years. The scope of the renewals ranges from paving on collector roads—primarily bus routes—or doing pavement overlay work with minor concrete repairs throughout a neighbourhood, to complete reconstruction of a neighbourhood's roads, sidewalks and streetlight system.
To put the size of this neighbourhood renewal program into perspective, the city completed 49 neighbourhood renewal projects between 1987 and 2008. That means that there will be almost as many completed in the next four years as in the 21 years prior to the implementation of the Neighbourhood Renewal Program in 2009.
Neighbourhood reconstructions, which have an average cost of $25 million, are relatively large projects that take two to three years to complete, depending on the size of the area. In addition to road and sidewalk replacement, lighting systems will be upgraded to LED. Depending on the neighbourhood, the work can involve realigning intersections for safer traffic flow, adding bike paths and building new sidewalks on paths that people in the neighbourhood regularly use.
"With the reconstruction program, we coordinate with utilities and city departments to determine what needs to be done. We also have a three-stage public involvement process where we go out to communities and share designs and get their ideas on what's working, what's not and what they'd like to see," says Jeff Ward, director of neighbourhood renewal for roads, design and construction.
The program doesn't cover the cost of utility work, but the city has provided the utility companies with a 10-year plan to help them plan and coordinate, so they can do their work before surface work is done. The city also has long-term contracts in place with contractors to do neighbourhood reconstruction.
"We did that in response to industry capacity; back in 2008-09, we were concerned that the program was going to be doing so much work, as it's doing now, and we needed some price certainty and to ensure that there was capacity in the market," says Steve Aguiar, general supervisor, Road Renewal Programming. "The contracts are about six years each and cover three neighbourhoods, so that allows industry to invest and grow along with the program."
When the Neighbourhood Renewal Program began in 2009, the goal was to ensure that all Edmonton neighbourhoods were in good condition within 30 years. Aguiar says that they are on target to meet that goal and that the overall condition of neighbourhoods is improving.
Bonnybrook Wastewater Treatment Plant D Expansion
Cost: $400 million
One of Calgary's three wastewater treatment plants, Bonnybrook, is undergoing an expansion with a new plant that will increase capacity by about 30 per cent. When the third stage of construction is completed in 2022, the facility will service a population of approximately 1.3 million people.
Plant D will be comprised of separate facilities running the three wastewater treatment processes. The expansion includes adding primary and secondary clarifiers, a biological nutrient removal system, and filtration. The City of Calgary is also upgrading the ultraviolet disinfection system as well as the primary and secondary sludge thickening systems.
"Our challenge has been that Bonnybrook is an older, established site with space limitations," says Darren Finney, leader, Bonnybrook Plant D Expansion. "With the Bow River on the east and existing industries on the north and west, we can't just go out and get more land. However, efficient space planning has allowed us to fit the expansion into the existing site."
In addition to the new plant, the city is making upgrades to the current facility, including adding a flood resiliency component to protect critical infrastructure from river flooding, overland flooding and flooding from too much sewage. This work is intended to prevent a repeat of damage sustained at Bonnybrook as a result of the 2013 flood.
Planning and conceptual design are complete, and the project is in the end of the preliminary design phase. Construction is expected to start late in 2016 with major construction starting in 2017.
Stoney CNG Bus Storage and Transit Facility
Cost: Estimated $200 million
In 2013, Calgary Transit added four compressed natural gas (CNG) fuelled buses to its fleet to look at potential operational cost savings and environmental benefits. The results must have been positive as the city is building a storage and maintenance facility that can accommodate CNG fuelled vehicles.
CNG fuelled buses can't be stored in current bus storage facilities because of safety issues related to potential leakage from the vehicles and the fuelling system. Russell Davies, transit fleet manager, Transportation Calgary, explains some of the unique requirements for the new building.
"You have to have a lot of gas detection systems, and you need lighting, heating and electrical systems suitable for CNG facilities, because if you get small gas leaks and your heating system is an open-flame system or your electrical systems have sparks, you have risk of fire. You also need a high rate of complete air exchange, so the HVAC systems need to be fairly significant," he says.
The new facility will be located in the Stoney industrial area in the north-central region of the city. It will provide storage space for about 400 buses and include 40 maintenance bays, two steam bays for steam-cleaning engines and parts, and fuelling infrastructure. It will also be equipped to service diesel buses.
One of the unique aspects of the project is the indoor fuelling system. "That is probably one of the more innovative pieces," says Davies. "I don't think anybody else fuels indoors with CNG. Other places are in areas where they can fuel vehicles outside but that's a little tricky here because it gets a little cold."
The project is being funded under the P3 model, and a request for proposals is being prepared for release to three prequalified parties—EllisDon Infrastructure, Plenary Infrastructure and Stoney Transit Partners. The successful bidder will be chosen next year.