It’s not your imagination! There are yellow and orange pilons, construction and barricades, detours and lots of commotion throughout Edmonton. And that’s a good sign!
From the final stages of TransEd, paving 30 kilometres of Edmonton roads, widening Yellowhead Trail East, bridges, new playgrounds and park upgrades to the expansion of Terwillegar Drive, planting 3,000 trees, repairing tens of thousands of potholes and much more, Edmonton construction is busy.
Of course, the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions impacted Edmonton construction, but they didn’t take as much of a toll as seen in some other sectors.
“In Alberta, construction was deemed an essential service, so our projects have been able to continue throughout the pandemic,” says Adam Laughlin, Edmonton’s deputy city manager of integrated infrastructure services. “I’m really proud that we were able to keep people working and keep building Edmonton despite COVID. In fact, 2020 was one of our most successful construction seasons to date and we expect that 2021 will be just as successful.”
Matt Schellenberger, director of corporate development with the Edmonton Construction Association (ECA) is also upbeat, saying “The ECA and our partners worked hard to ensure that construction was deemed an essential service and most construction projects continued throughout the pandemic with enhanced safety and sanitation measures. But no doubt about it, COVID did affect many aspects of construction, from project scheduling and timelines to materials pricing. It has been an issue for projects currently underway and, unfortunately, has led to some project delays.”
The City’s 2021 construction details and specifics are a gung-ho reflection of positives. “This year, we have 271 active capital projects supporting over 13,000 Edmonton jobs,” Laughlin adds. “Some of these are direct employment (designers, engineers, and construction workers) and some are indirect, like material suppliers. Despite obstacles like COVID lockdowns, of the 271 active projects on-the-go, 93 per cent are on budget and 79 per cent are on schedule.
“Capital projects strengthen Edmonton’s economic recovery by providing jobs and hiring more than 300 businesses, subcontractors and suppliers that are locally owned or Edmonton-based businesses,” he says.
Schellenberger points out that, despite random hurdles, Edmonton construction in 2021 is an active, good news story, “Particularly with the City’s ambitious construction projects and retrofits, ECA members are working collaboratively with large projects, creating thousands of jobs for our local workforce and industry professionals.”
In various ways, although Edmonton construction has had its share of challenges, it is also a story of resilience. Due to unexpected factors like COVID and other construction sector broadsides, Schellenberger notes that the local construction industry has worked through industry-related issue for several years, such as fluctuations in Alberta’s oil and gas sector.
“Material pricing and access have had significant impact and also the drop in not only skilled trades, but all workers,” he says. “The reality is that, in 2021 and into 2022, many people are gone. Industrial is firing hard again with oil above $75 Bbl., so a lot of the labour is there. Also, there is still an Atlantic bubble, so the skilled trades that would commute to Alberta on a 21/7 shift can’t, as they needed two weeks of isolation, back home.
“Another problem is that foreign workers on work visas have also dwindled. A lot couldn’t leave and come back and many work visas were allowed to expire as people stayed in their home countries. It has caused a significant shortage of labour.”
Schellenberger acknowledges that, although the usual year-to-year comparisons are impossible (mostly because 2020 was such an anomaly year for construction) comparing 2019 to 2021 projects is encouraging news for the city. He cites the Edmonton project count, from BuildWorks Alberta, showing an approximate 500 project increase in 2021, from the same time last year as well as an overall increase from 2019.
Schellenberger cites some Edmonton construction specifics for 2021 and 2022. “There’s lots happening – the Valley Line LRT, the Terwillegar Drive Expansion and Yellowhead Trail Freeway Conversion, as well as Blatchford Phase 1, the new Edmonton Hospital, Lewis Farms and the City’s Rapid Housing.”
With so much construction in progress, Laughlin highlights the work on two of the biggest projects – TransEd and Blatchford. “TransEd has made good progress recently on the Valley Line Southeast and achieving service commencement this year. Staying on TransEd’s target will require the remainder of the design, construction, testing and commissioning activities to be completed without any further delays. While construction continues to advance, much of the system installation and integration work remains.”
“It’s really exciting to see this transformative, city building project take shape and we can’t wait for Edmontonians to use the new line,” he says with positivity. “Not only will it offer a new way for Edmontonians to get around, it will also change the shape of the city they are moving through.
“When it comes to the four different stages of the Blatchford project, shovels are in the ground on the first two stages. By the end of this year, dozens of additional homes are expected to be complete or under construction, including new condo townhouses that will expand options for new buyers.”
He mentions that 2021 is not only a busy construction season but, according to the stats, Edmonton is well into the most ambitious four-year capital program ever. “A few of the major projects underway this year include the ongoing construction on the Yellowhead Freeway Conversion Program, the Valley Line West and Southeast LRT, the Terwillegar Drive expansion, Jasper Avenue New Vision and Phase 2 of Kinistinaw Park.”
Laughlin also cites a dizzying, but positive, construction project workload, including more than 110 kilometres of local roadways and sidewalks, four bridges, 182 kilometres of pavement renewals, three noise walls and two culverts being renewed, 14 pedestrian bridge renewals (11 in Mill Creek and three in other parts of the City), 13 new playgrounds and 3,000 trees being planted. He adds with the focused grin of someone hectically busy, “Not to mention the 164,960 potholes and asphalt repairs that have already been completed this year.”
He is revved and supercharged about the momentum of Edmonton construction, noting, “Many of these projects will be in construction this year or early next year, some new, some ongoing. We’re excited to be able to move these projects forward, to continue maintaining and building our city, to keep working with our industry partners and to help keep people working.”
When it comes to infrastructure and construction, Edmonton is busy and the payoff is incalculable.
“The $1 billion that will be spent this year on capital construction is an investment in this city we love,” Laughlin concludes. “It’s an investment in our future. We are planning and building a city where people want to live, where they feel that they belong, where they have opportunities to thrive, and where they can freely access everything that makes Edmonton great.”