Sprawlcast: Groundhog Day on the Green Line

A couple weeks before election day, mayoral candidate and former PC president Bill Smith said he’d hit pause on the Green Line.

NENSHI: Now, after many, many, many, many mayoral forums where we’ve been asked our ideas, you’d think at some point you would say that your idea is to actually stop the largest transit investment – the largest infrastructure investment – in Calgary’s history, to turn your back on $3 billion of federal and provincial funding.

And some candidates for council are pledging to scrap the project, portraying it in the same way Bill Smith did in 2017.

On March 9, NDP MLA and former Calgary city councillor Joe Ceci asked finance minister Travis Toews about this in the legislature.

MINISTER TRAVIS TOEWS: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, fast forward a few weeks and what happened? The city is moving utilities and procuring some train cars this year—but that’s about it.

MICHAEL THOMPSON: This utility relocation work is what will comprise the majority of the Green Line work in 2021.

BINKS: What is the reality of Green Line today? As far as I can tell, all that we really have is the most expensive utilities relocation project in the city of Calgary’s history.

At a press conference on April 28, Tom Ross of 660 News asked McIver what was happening with the pause—a question he’s asked before.

MCIVER: I guess you’re going to get a similar answer to the one you got last time you asked this question, because the situation is still the same.

I believe our government feels that way; the city of Calgary feels that way; and when we can put a date on that we will, but I’m not going to put an artificial date on it, because, frankly, this is about doing it right, not adhering to an artificial schedule.

GRAY: We respectfully submit that the economic consequence of this project, stage one, as planned, embodies an unacceptable high risk of becoming an economic catastrophe – and I use that word appropriately – for the city at this time.

They also broke up the construction for the first stage of the Green Line – from 16th Ave in the north to Shepard in the southeast – into three stages.

But then, in late 2020, the city announced that the project was on pause because the province was reviewing it.

It’s been almost four years since the original stage one plan for Green Line was presented to the T&T committee, and yet here we are talking again about anything and everything except a firm construction timeline.

I’ve said this a lot lately, but I think it deserves repeating now: This is not the City of Calgary’s project, and this is not the Government of Alberta’s project.

I can appreciate that the 90-day clause that was inserted in the contract can create a level of apprehension to speak up and speak out.

KLASZUS: Now, at this Green Line committee meeting, Councillor Jyoti Gondek tried to drill down and find out exactly what was causing the province to hold up the project.

The questions that they’ve had have been similar to the questions that we had answered with council back in June of last year and a number of things that we’ve all run through regarding alignment, the ridership, the impact of COVID, what constructability issues are, geotechnical issues in the downtown, costing issues, risks, and procurement strategy…

I can tell you that the board and the team, we’re very focused on delivering the mandate that council established through the 17 key directions that were approved in June.

One is the city of Calgary, which includes its council, its Green Line administrative team, and its Green Line board, all of whom understand what the 17 recommendations were, all of whom are in favor of moving this project forward and understand the strength of this project for this city.

I can tell you from a project team perspective there’s nothing more frustrating than not moving forward in building the project, and so while it’s frustrating for us and personally frustrating, our focus is on making sure that we have a good product at the end of the day.

KLASZUS: In addition to the Green Line committee, the Green Line project also has a board that was appointed in January to oversee the project.

But we also appreciate that we don’t want to put ourselves in the position of driving forward to meet what I heard, for the most part, this afternoon as being what I’ll characterize fairly as an extreme level of frustration around the commencement of this work.

BINKS: I appreciate the hard work the team has done over the last few years reworking the stage one plan to address the technical problems downtown.

So why is nobody publicly defending it when the Government of Alberta sends ripples through the marketplace and the community saying it’s not? How are organizations like LRT on the Green or folks like Councillor Gondek and Councillor Keating supposed to continue fighting for this project when the board of directors doesn’t seem bothered to champion it? The words spoken by Mr. Fairbairn today were a good starting point, but it’s definitely a long way from what’s been needed.

At the March 31 Green Line meeting, councillors also alluded to the provincial government asking them and other Green Line advocates to pipe down and not make a fuss in the media—while at the same time, McIver was in the press saying he had good reasons for putting the project on pause, that it was important to minimize risk.

But the fact of the matter is we’ve heard a lot from the province, in the media and political talk from the province, and what we’ve heard today and, I think, spoken very clearly by Mr. Fairbairn and Mr. Thompson, is that hasn’t produced anything good.

I mean, I told Minister McIver in my last conversation with him, you want the time to get this sorted, we’ll give you the time, but we don’t have unlimited time.

KEATING: Thank you for that.

KLASZUS: Council is supposed to get an update on the Green Line in May.

JANE EBBERN: I’m here to speak on behalf of the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good, which brings together 31 organizations that represent approximately 36,000 Calgarians.

Our people can’t wait for 12,000 direct jobs – in fact, 20,000 jobs in total when we include indirect.

We are building this Green Line for the Calgary of the future, and we need to start now.

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