Judging by all the major construction happening, Edmonton has rebounded and the some!
Construction crews have been working on more than 250 infrastructure projects since the summer of 2022 – including the Valley Line West (VLW) LRT, Yellowhead Trail, Terwillegar Drive Expansion, the installation of Canada’s largest rooftop solar array, (part of the Edmonton EXPO Centre Rehabilitation) and other projects – with an estimated $1.9 billion in funding.
The various major construction projects not only grow Edmonton, they create thousands of jobs and are a significant boost for the region’s economy.
“In 2022, the city managed 300 construction projects that employed more than 13,000 people from the Edmonton region,” explains Adam Laughlin, deputy city manager of integrated infrastructure services at the City of Edmonton. “Just one example is the Yellowhead Trail freeway conversion, scheduled to be finished in 2027. It will create approximately 6,000 direct and indirect jobs, and $430 million in wages over its 10-year design and construction period.”
In addition, other major Edmonton construction, like the Bell Tower’s lobby renovation, ICE District Plaza, the Connect Centre, the new TD branch on 101 Street and several others are adding to Edmonton’s construction momentum.
Whether it is the city’s infrastructure construction schedule or other major, in-progress construction projects, it is a dynamic positive for Edmonton; and it matters in many ways.
“The ripple effects of major construction projects are massive,” says Puneeta McBryan, executive director at Edmonton Downtown.
“Not only is it significant for directly creating construction and related trade jobs, it attracts thousands of residents and workers into the core and it triggers spending in Edmonton’s small hospitality and retail businesses.”
Although most of Edmonton’s infrastructure construction is stereotypically focused on impossible-to-miss visuals like detours, traffic jams, heavy equipment, orange pylons and road signs, dayglow vested and hard-hatted crews busily working on roadways, bypasses and bridges, Edmonton’s infrastructure masterplan is complex and elaborate.
“We do more than build buildings, roads, parks, bridges and recreation centres,” Laughlin adds. “We build communities where Edmontonians can both live and thrive. No doubt about it, 2022 was one of Edmonton’s most ambitious capital seasons yet with more than 300 active construction projects and the completion of the four-year, $7 billion, capital program.”
He proudly notes that by the end of 2022, approximately 90 per cent of projects were on budget and 70 per cent were on, or ahead of, schedule.
For 2023 he says, “The VLW LRT line is currently one of Edmonton’s most ambitious, and challenging, examples of major construction. Our LRT expansion projects will change how we move and grow into a city of two million people and as one of Canada’s major cities and economic hubs.”
Although last year was the first full year of the VLW construction, it will ultimately provide a 14 kilometre LRT extension from downtown Edmonton to Lewis Farms in west Edmonton, including 14 street level stops and two elevated stations
“The massive Yellowhead infrastructure project is continuing to convert Yellowhead Trail into a freeway, and it will greatly improve overall safety and the movement of goods and services into and out of the city,” he says. “It will enhance the reliability of the corridor while balancing community, business and commuter needs.”
A key part of the project is St. Albert Trail to 97 Street, including removal of at-grade signalized intersections and construction of two interchanges.
Edmonton’s major construction list is exciting and long. Laughlin also highlights:
- Demolition and replacement of Stony Plain Road Bridge across Groat Road, requiring a long-term closure of Stony Plain Road between 129 Street and 131 Street. Construction of the new bridge is anticipated to be complete next fall.
- The Edmonton EXPO Centre Rehabilitation, Phase 1 will be completed this year, with updates to structural and mechanical systems as well as boasting the largest rooftop solar array in Canada.
- Nine Edmonton neighbourhoods will experience renewal this year, with multi-year projects beginning in Ottewell, Boyle Street and McCauley, Baturyn and along 132 Avenue.
- As part of the Hawrelak Park Rehabilitation project, the park will close early March for extensive work, which will include deep utilities, roads and paths, site grading and facility updates. A full park closure for three years is required for safety and to ensure the project is done as quickly as possible.
McBryan is gung-ho about Edmonton’s major construction momentum.
“We’re seeing significant residential activity and significant renovation activity on office and other commercial properties, but there is limited new office construction.
“Counting new construction and any renovation projects of over $1 million, I would estimate between $450-$500 million from the private sector. The city and other public sector or non-profit institutions, like MacEwan University, NorQuest College and the Winspear Centre also have major construction projects in the works; perhaps $150-$200 million from what we know about Edmonton’s institutional major construction projects.”
Although the City’s construction continues to be busy with post-pandemic momentum, the construction sector is undeniably dealing with some ongoing challenges.
“The most significant speedbump is grappling with an aging labour force,” warns Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada, the respected national organization committed to the development of a highly skilled construction workforce.
For Canada as a whole, 20 per cent of the population is currently between the ages of 50 to 64 years old.
“Even for Alberta, which enjoys a younger population than the rest of Canada, it is already faced with 18 per cent of the population in that 50-to-64-year age group. Aging demographics is an issue that will plague all industries across Canada. We will see increased competition among all sectors for young workers. There are fewer youth joining the construction industry, compared to previous generations.”
McBryan points out that the same speedbumps are facing downtown construction as everywhere else in the city.
“High construction costs, labour shortages and economic uncertainty. It’s also just so much more expensive to build downtown due to high property taxes. It will just take a bit more time downtown to get office occupancy back up where it needs to be and to get the demand for residential units back up so the math for these very high-budget construction projects tips in the right direction.”
She discusses the essential value of major projects in Edmonton’s downtown core. “Our municipal tax base and the functioning of our city is very reliant on an incredibly high concentration of high-value properties with high economic output existing in our downtown. It’s where 9 per cent of Edmonton’s assessed property value resides. Commercial property is also taxed at two to three times the rate of residential property. So, without the concentrated construction and economic activity downtown, our municipal budget would really fall apart.”
But McBryan is upbeat about the domino effect of Edmonton’s major construction. “It translates into economic confidence for Edmonton because it means positive visitor experiences for people who are checking out the city as prospective investors, new residents or visitors.”
Laughlin shares the enthusiasm, “The Edmonton construction masterplan is dynamic and exciting. The construction work we’re doing this year is part of the connection to our future and the city, as we get ready to welcome one million more people.”