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‘Very devastating blow’ to Calgary’s Green Line LRT: Keating

After learning more of the potentially crippling impact on Calgary taxpayers, Coun. Shane Keating, a long-time champion of the Green Line LRT project, said if the funding plan doesn’t change, he won’t support it.

In Thursday’s provincial budget, Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) said funding for the Green Line would remain intact, but that it wouldn’t be doled out to the city until after 2022. The province, instead of providing $555 million over the next three years, will give $75 million.

Initially, given the current project milestones, Keating thought the city would be able to continue unabated with the Green Line construction. That’s changed.

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“As things are today, I can’t see myself moving forward with this,” he said.

“I consider this a very devastating blow to the project.”

While the province has provided assurance that the money is still available, Keating said the problem with the new arrangement is two-fold. First, where does the upfront money come from? He said they’d have to finance the provincial and federal portions – perhaps as much as $3.5 to $4 billion. They’d have to pay the interest on that until the province and feds came up with their portion of the cash.

Keating said the federal payout system requires the city to complete a certain value of a project before it gets reimbursed.

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“How can we justify putting, first the financial debt servicing costs on to a project, which means you can build less capital. As we’re finding, it’s more and more difficult to stay within the budget,” Keating said.

“Second, what happens if the province comes in four years, when the project’s a third or a half-built, and says, ‘you know what, we have to delay it another four years?’”

Green Line enabling work will continue

In the meantime, work that’s been contracted will continue, according to City of Calgary Transportation GM, Michael Thompson.

“We’re busy working away on the commitments we have,” said Thompson, noting the enabling work that’s already going on in the southern portion.

“We’ve been busy buying land acquiring, getting that ready, project ready to go to market.”

Right now, the Request for Qualifications for Stage 1, Phase 1 just closed, and the city is looking at those submissions, Thompson said. The expectation is that a Request for Proposal (RFP) will go out in 2020. According to the Green Line timeline provided online, construction could begin on that in late 2020, or early 2021.

Thompson said that schedule will depend on when they go to RFP, when they get a contractor on board, and ultimately what happens with provincial funding.

When asked, Thompson said he wasn’t certain what amount of money would be needed up until late 2020, when shovels could first hit the ground. As work finishes up for the winter, Thompson said it’s unclear what work new work would be undertaken when the spring construction season hits.

Where the city goes next with this project very much depends on further discussions with the province, Thompson said.

Keating said finance officials from the province will be in Calgary this week to talk with the city further about the Green Line LRT.

‘…I feel emotionally drained.’

It’s been a long nine-years pushing for the Green Line project and Keating said it’s had its fair share of changes and setbacks – including recent delays to revisit the downtown alignment.

Is the project dead? No, Keating said. The coming weeks will unravel the future for Calgary’s biggest-ever infrastructure project.

The vision is still there. He wants to see a north-south LRT line that connects Seton with North Pointe. He said it would be a game-changer for commuters in both the north and Calgary’s southeast. Better transportation and recreation were commitments he made to voters when first elected nine years ago. He accomplished one with the opening of the Brookfield Residential YMCA in Seton.

The Green Line is the other box to check.  

“But you do know that if you can’t pay the bills, you can’t build the project,” he said.

“That’s devastating and I feel emotionally drained.”