Edmonton studies $1.8bn light rail PPP

Public officials in the Canadian city of Edmonton are examining a public-private partnership for a $1.8bn expansion of its light rail network. The city is applying for funding from the P3 Canada fund.

The city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, is benchmarking a public-private partnership (PPP) for a 13-kilometer stretch of its Light Rail Transit (LRT) network against a more traditional design-build model.

Edmonton’s city council has identified the southeast section of the expansion project, which would run from Mill Woods to Downtown Centre West, as a priority phase, but financing for the C$1.8 billion (€1.4 billion; $1.8 billion) project leg remains unclear.

The city is performing a PPP value for money assessment and preliminary engineering to determine the amount of capital that is needed for the project and ultimately the city council will decide which path to pursue. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter.

Edmonton is in the midst of applying for funding from the P3 Canada Fund, a merit-based programme that supports Canadian infrastructure projects, for the expansion plus a light rail vehicle garage. According to city documents, P3 Canada grant funds could finance up to 25 percent of eligible capital costs, while the private sector’s contribution could comprise as much as 40 percent of expenses. 

According to city officials at a recent council meeting before the transportation and infrastructure committee, Edmonton may push for a dedicated tax to help finance the LRT project. Even if the city opts to structure the project as a PPP, it may still decide to implement a tax increase to help pay contractors over the life of the multi-decade contract.

In 2009, Edmonton’s city council adopted a long-term network plan for its LRT system. Officials have decided to use what they dub an urban approach to the LRT network development and cite a Dublin rail system as an example.