Even if they wanted to, Calgary wouldn’t be able to flip the switch on a request for proposals (RFP) to jumpstart construction on the southernmost portion of the Green Line.
Earlier this week, the Green Line advocacy group LRT on the Green issued a call for Calgary to move ahead with the RFP for Segment 1 (Elbow River to 130 Avenue SE), Phase 1 of the nearly $5 billion transportation project while they continue gathering feedback on the downtown portion of the line.
“Companies have been patiently waiting for the opportunity to bid on this project and thousands of Calgarians are desperate for the opportunity to get to work building this project,” said Jeff Binks, president of LRT on the Green.
For reference: The Green Line is split into Stage 1 (16 Avenue N to Shepard) and Phase 2 (16 Avenue N to North Pointe). Phase 1 is split into Segment 1 (Elbow River south to Shepard / 130 Avenue SE) and Segment 2 (Elbow River north to 16 Avenue, through the downtown).
“We are well past the time to move this portion of Green Line off the drawing board and into reality.”
At last week’s Green Line committee meeting, councillors agreed to extend the consultation on the downtown portion of the project. That means a full alignment won’t be made public until late April instead of late March.
At that meeting, Coun. Shane Keating, who is chair of the Green Line committee, but was dialled in from another location, asked for specifics on how they would move forward with the south portion.
“The extra month isn’t a problem. But, delaying the project in any way, shape or form is a problem. And that’s what we have to get away from,” he later told LiveWire Calgary.
He said the south portion RFP is something that should already be done.
“Well it’s not something we should entertain, it’s something we should have done six months ago,” said Keating.
Green Line: RFQ to RFP
The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) on segment 1 and the Green Line trains ended in the fall of 2019. At that point, a decision was made to pause on the RFP for the southern route.
Jessica Connors, with the City of Calgary’s Green Line communications, said they received direction from council to wait to release the RFP on segment until the full Stage 1 alignment was approved.
The prior summer, she said, it was determined that splitting the stage 1 project into two contracts would allow them to move segment 1 forward, “as it is substantially ready for construction.”
The split of the Phase 1 contract was something Keating said he pushed for years ago, because the south portion of the line was bread and butter, “what we’ve done for decades.”
He was told at the time that one larger contract would be more appealing to contractors. Contractors, Keating said, told them the project was too big and there were too many unknowns.
So, it was split into segment 1 (south) and segment 2 (downtown).
“If we’d started the south line four years ago, we’d nearly be finished. Then we could have taken a look at the money that’s left and said, ‘what can we do, and can we actually afford the tunnel,’” he said.
“That, rather than the way things are presently, which is changing because prices have come in different than what we thought.”
In addition, while segment 2 is being sorted out, Keating said there have been negligible changes, if any, to the south portion. Enabling work has been ongoing for nearly two years.
Talk of shortening up the south line to aid in cost savings while the downtown is being scrutinized won’t happen either, said Keating. The maintenance facility for the low-floor cars is being built at 130 Avenue SE (Shepard), so it must extend that far. There’s no other land available large enough to accommodate that facility anywhere on the line.
Pens down on RFP docs: Keating
Keating said the RFP is a complex set of documents and specifications on expectations for a potential contractor. Given the scope of the project, collating this information would take time.
He said work had begun on them, but it was put aside as Stage 1 alignment talks continued.
“We had pens down for a little while and that was a mistake,” Keating said.
“Pens should have been working furiously as all of these other discussions were going on. Then, when it’s done, you put the binder on the shelf and you, when you get permission from council, take it off the shelf, update it, change it and release it.”
According to Anna Melnick with Green Line communications, work on the RFP documents began in 2018.
“However, due to some of the changes in the market and the way we are procuring Stage 1 of the Green Line, the documents needed to be modified to match the changing procurement strategy and scope,” she wrote in an emailed response.
That’s the part that irks Binks.
“We know more time is needed to discuss the route in Eau Claire and Crescent Heights but we have faith the City of Calgary can walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s time to start walking,” he said.
“We’ve been chewing gum and talking about segment 2 for long enough. It’s time for them to start walking forward and getting on with construction.”
The city confirmed work is happening on the RFP and Keating said it should be issued later this year. Following that would be months of consultations with contractors before awarding the contract and beginning work – hopefully still in 2021.
Cost escalation worries
In a LiveWire Calgary story from July 2019, a city spokeswoman indicated that delaying the Green Line costs $90 million annually. That’s due to an escalation in construction costs and additional time from staff and consultants.
Keating said repeated delays will continue to cost the city cash.
“Every time we start delaying things, we end up with the possibility of price increases or changes – a number of those things,” he said.
Binks said having the two segments ultimately working in “lock step” would also likely drive up costs as contractors are going to have to source equipment and workforce in order to tackle the scope of the construction.
“If you have the contractors working at the same time, they’re essentially competing against each other for everything, so it’s going cost more because they have to get what they need to build the project,” he said.
Green Line project credibility needs to be restored: Coun. Keating
Binks said shovels need to get in the ground so the Green Line isn’t just talk anymore.
“The only thing standing in the way of construction is a lack of action,” he said.
Keating said it’s important to restore confidence in the project – both with citizens and with contractors. He also said that if segment 2 needs even more time than April, then the city should take it. It’s important to get that part right.
“We need to allow the south to go forward in such a way that contractors and business people are going to say, ‘Ok the project is on the go, it’s a real thing now,’ not just something people are talking about,” he said.
“Getting this off the board and getting moving would give a lot of confidence and credibility back to the project.”