'A shabby road without sidewalks,' 105th Avenue slated for $16M renewal

A pothole-plagued, sidewalk-deprived section of 105th Avenue north of downtown Edmonton will finally get fixed after city council agreed to move ahead with the $16-million project.

The plans to revitalize 105th Avenue — also known as Columbia Avenue — between 109th Street and 116th Street started more than a decade ago.

During budget talks last month, Coun. Scott McKeen urged his fellow councillors to reconfirm their support for it.  

"This is a shabby road without sidewalks from 111th Street to 116th Street," he said. "It's not a grandiose road project, it's a needed road project."

McKeen noted in the past few years, new apartments have gone up, MacEwan University has expanded and more students have moved into the area just northwest of the arena district.

'Hostile to pedestrians'

"It's this more-and-more important urban road that was hostile to pedestrians," McKeen told CBC News  "I'm sure the people living and working in the area will appreciate being able to walk on a sidewalk and not in traffic or on a bike lane."

The project was at risk of getting deferred amid a budget session that ended other major projects, including the Lewis Farms rec centre.  

Not everyone agreed it should go ahead. Councillors Tim Cartmell, Moe Banga, Jon Dziadyk and Mike Nickel wanted to shelve the project because of budgetary restraints.

But council voted 9-4 last month to maintain funding over the next two years. 

The project includes installing sidewalks separate from the shared-use path. The final design will include soft and hard landscaping such as grass, feature walls, planting and seating areas.

It's the second phase of the 105th revitalization project, after the city restored pavement and put in a solid line of sidewalk between 116th and 119th Streets a few years ago.

'Very difficult to get around'

Samuel Colby, a fourth-year business student at MacEwan, said he supports any plan to improve walkability along that stretch of road.

Currently covered with snow, the area alongside the shared-use path is marked by pockets of gravel and grass in other seasons. 

"When it gets really wet you don't want to be walking on that," Colby said.

He's said he's seen people in wheelchairs and walkers struggling.

"It's very difficult to get around in the area," he said. "Just the dirt isn't going to work for their walkers or wheelchairs." 

Scott Neufeld/CBC

Coun. Ben Henderson said plans to improve the North Edge neighbourhood date back to 2006, in a bid to encourage development and commercial investment.

During a council meeting in December, Henderson noted the city's commitment to the residents and businesses in the area. 

"If we continue to offer these things as a carrot and then withdraw the carrot, which we have done for 14 years, I think that's problematic," he said. 

Mayor Don Iveson also had strong perspective on fixing the link between the arena district and the commercial zone. 

"This is not just a roadway project — this is a public realm project," Iveson said. "It is catalytic to additional investment and tax base growth."

Iveson noted that if council didn't move forward with the project now, he wasn't sure when it would happen.

McKeen envisions the renovated corridor to be a future hub for art, food and live music.

"I think Columbia Avenue redone will just add character to the area."

With MacEwan as an anchor institution and more business and residential developments popping up, McKeen said the area has the potential to be a north-of-the-river counterpart to the University of Alberta.

The avenue was originally developed and named Columbia Avenue sometime between 1881 and 1908, according to the city's naming committee. Columbia Avenue originally ran from 101st Street to 119th Street.

@natashariebe