The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, and dramatically impacted every aspect of society. One of the pandemic’s casualties has been public transit, which has experienced an extreme ridership decline - as high as 90% in municipalities across North America. Will public transit, as we know it, survive?
Public transit, specifically Light Rail Transit (LRT), delivers an essential and unique role, providing an efficient and equitable mode of transportation. Light Rail Transit reduces travel times, facilitates effective land-use development (Transit-Oriented Development or TOD), and promotes regional prosperity. In addition, LRT fosters environmental sustainability, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes to climate resilience.
Today, municipal, provincial and federal governments view LRT as an infrastructure investment that provides the catalyst that aligns with their plans for a COVID-19 recovery by creating one million jobs, fighting climate change, and rebuilding a more sustainable and resilient economy. All levels of government have prioritized measures that will contribute to expanding public transit systems.
In February 2021, the Federal government announced a $14.9 billion investment in public transit over the next eight years, including permanent funding of $3 billion per year starting in 2026. This commitment is over and above other federal incentives.
The Government of Canada’s Investing in Canada Plan and recent acceleration to the Gas Tax Fund distribution are specifically targeted at job creation, economic recovery, and growth. These Federal initiatives support building robust, dynamic, and inclusive communities through capital infrastructure investment. In May, the Federal government announced $10.4 billion in funding for transit projects in Toronto: the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Rapid Transit replacement, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, and the Yonge-North subway extension. The Government of British Columbia has promised to provide funding for the $4.8 billion Surrey-Langley Skytrain project.
In 2021, the City of Edmonton began constructing their $2.6 billion Valley Line LRT West Project and finalizing the advancement of the Capital Line LRT South Extension Project for 2022. The City of Calgary will proceed with their $4.9 billion Greenline LRT project in 2022. In July 2021, the Federal Government announced $1.3 billion in funding to extend Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain line from Surrey to Langley.
All levels of government commit that LRT will continue to be a significant component of future transportation networks
What could derail LRT? The escalating cost of building transit infrastructure.
The first subway in Toronto was the Yonge subway, which would cost $87.6 million/kilometre to build in today’s dollars. The Ontario Line is estimated to cost $10.9 billion, translating to $703.2 million/kilometre. This dramatic increase in cost can be attributed to local planning challenges, project design, and higher cost of materials. Innovative planning and design of transit infrastructure can help reduce construction costs. The pilot project for Ottawa’s O-Train in 2001 used existing infrastructure to provide transit service. The eight kilometres long, five station O-Train was constructed for $21 million (2001 dollars).
Ongoing innovation to reduce costs is the challenge for all consulting firms, including Associated Engineering. Collaboration with project owners and partners is necessary to explore all avenues, such as creative financing, to reduce costs and for cost recovery.
About the Author:
Kent Eklund, P.Eng., MBA is our Vice President, Transportation. He provides company-wide leadership support and guidance to staff and clients on transit systems, transportation planning, traffic engineering, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and roadways and highways design projects. Kent has 30 years of experience specializing in project management, planning, public consultation, stakeholder engagement, design, and construction of new, rehabilitation, and maintenance projects ranging over $1 billion in construction value.