Hicks on Biz: Edmonton's easier to get around now than it's ever been BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2015
Edmonton’s transportation system is in really, really good shape … besides the potholes.
Complain though we will, our new and upgraded roads and bridges, our airport, public transit and private ride-sharing (Uber, not taxis) has never been better.
Automobiles (Roads): The Henday Ring Road is the biggest single improvement, on time, on budget, three-quarters done with completion of the northeast leg next year. The end is in sight for the massive road re-construction on Hwy 216 (the Henday between Edmonton and Sherwood Park) from the Hwy 16/Hwy 216 interchange south to the Whitemud Drive.
The widening and upgrading of the Whitemud’s Quesnell Bridge (across the North Saskatchewan River) has done the trick. Barring accidents, traffic now flows smoothly across that bridge at all hours of the day. Likewise the Calgary Trail/23rd Avenue interchange has cleaned up a former mess.
The Queen Elizabeth II/41st Ave. SW interchange, weeks away from opening, will much improve east-west traffic flows in the deep south, especially for truckers.
Other than unfixable bottlenecks on the inner South Side – around the University of Alberta and getting out of the downtown - plus those damned traffic lights on the Yellowhead west of 97th Street, we can no longer complain about truck and car movement around this town. The Walterdale and 102nd Avenue bridges will get re-built. Some day.
Trains (LRT): Hey gang, the new leg to NAIT is FINALLY OPEN, the trains are full, and, despite the signalling debacle, working better than expected. With all the major post-secondary schools and our two biggest hospitals hooked up, the LRT is finally hinting at its full potential.
Between the LRT, buses and Uber ride-sharing when needed, it’s now possible to live in the southwest, northeast, downtown and central north side without a car. Too bad about the southeast and the west end. With the drop in energy revenues, the province likely won’t have the money to fund further LRT building for years and years.
Planes: Just 15 years ago, the International Airport opened Phase I of its overhaul. We had one or two non-stop American and European flights. We were fighting to be more than a spoke on Calgary’s aviation hub.
Today, the airport is everything you’d expect from a modern airport in a mid-sized city. With KLM, Air Canada, Icelandair, and soon WestJet’s non-stop flights to England, we’ll have 10 to 12 non-stop flights a week to Europe (including Reykjavik) next summer. There’s talk of one or two ultra-low-cost new domestic airlines starting up in Canada. We actually (finally) have public scheduled bus service from the LRT's end to the airport.
Meanwhile, Cooking Lake Airport has now been cleared to accept international arrivals, i.e. from the USA, for corporate and private aircraft. It’s another step in the right direction.
Buses (Inter-city): The only serious hole in the city's transport infrastructure is the lack of an inter-city bus terminal. Good riddance to the soon-to-close, run-down, seedy downtown Greyhound bus terminal, but nobody has stepped up to create an upscale, new, downtown bus terminal. Such a station could be owned and operated like the airport, on a community-based, financially independent business model.
Instead, Greyhound is expected to open a terminal in the middle of nowhere, south of the Yellowhead off 121 Street, three kilometres from the NAIT LRT station, next to the VIA rail station used by – wow! - four passenger trains a week in winter. That’s economic development?
There’s always going to be something. Bicyclists want more bike lanes, the High Level Bridge is antiquated, potholes, no freeways into the downtown, the airport is too far out of town, potholes, buses are dark and dank, LRT station escalators don’t work, construction delays are a constant, potholes, waiting at level LRT crossings for five to 10 minutes is a pain in the patootie.
But this city is 20X easier to get around, and get in and out of, than it was even 15 years ago.
Major projects that have dramatically improved transportation in and around Edmonton since 2000.
De-bottlenecked Whitemud Drive
Quesnell Bridge widening
LRT to southwest, northeast, downtown and north central
Calgary Trail/23rd Avenue interchange
Final twinning of Hwy 16 from Hinton to Lloydminster
Queen Elizabeth II and 41st Avenue SW interchange (upcoming)
WiFi and technology upgrades on buses and LRT
Free-flowing Yellowhead Trail
New downtown bus station
Year-round Air Canada non-stop flights to England
Better road signage for visitors