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Calgary approves $5.5B Green Line transit project

Calgary has taken a giant leap forward in city mobility with the approval of the $5.5 billion Green Line transit project.

City councillors approved administration’s revised alignment proposal 14-1 after years of planning and preparation along with wrangling and division on council. Coun. Jeromy Farkas was the lone dissenter.

“Today’s not a big day for the city,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“It is the biggest day for the city.”

The project began as the Southeast Calgary Transitway (SETWAY) in 1996 and culminated with a functional plan in 2006. It was originally a bus-rapid transit (BRT) plan. Fourteen years and several iterations later, council has agreed on light rail transit alignment.

The Stage 1 alignment is divided into Segment 1, Segment 2A and 2B. The entire project consists of building the Green Line from 16 Avenue N to 126 Avenue SE (Shepard).

Segment 1 is from 126 Avenue SE (Shepard) to East of the Elbow River (Inglewood/Ramsay). Segment 2A is East of the Elbow River (Inglewood/Ramsay) to 2 Avenue S.W. Station (Eau Claire). Segment 2B is North of 2 Avenue S.W. Station (Eau Claire) to 16 Avenue N, running up Center Street.

They’re calling the process “stage gating” – or managing the progress of the project by smaller stage.

“It’s the best scenario for allowing both the south and north to develop in one continuous line and be able to develop the transit line that is exactly like the red and blue (transit lines),” said Councillor Shane Keating, the main driver behind the project for the past decade.

Within a 10 minute walk of Stage 1, there’s more than 31 parks, 21 schools, and 16 cultural facilities, the city said.

The city has also said there are 20,000 jobs connected to Stage 1.

So, what’s next?

Segment 1 of the Green Line is shovel ready. The procurement process will move forward with the Request for Qualifications shortlisted proponents to be announced in June 2020, and the Request for Proposal to be issued no later than July 24, 2020. Given Segment 1 will be delivered as a design-build finance project, the proponent teams will be bidding on the project starting on July 24, 2020 however, the detailed design and construction will begin in 2021, the city said.

De-risking, or holding back?

One of the ways administration wanted to add a layer of risk mitigation to the project was to put in place a clause that limited potential budget overruns by moving ahead.

Construction of 2B will not begin until the risks to 2A are established.

The mayor questioned Green Line GM Michael Thompson on it, asking if it would actually increase the cost of the bridge to 16 Avenue N.

Thompson said it was a tough question to answer.

“At the same time, depending on the procurement strategy we develop, we may find that competitive tension so that we can actually not be exposed to that,” he said.

“And so, I can tell you that the recommendations as they stand before you are something we’re comfortable with.”

Mayor Nenshi said that recent debate over the project actually elevated the risk.

“It’s made people question the project,” he said.

Questions came from several councillors about potential “off ramps” or ways out of the remainder of the project should costs escalate.

GM Thompson said that they would come back to city council with updates on the project, including financial ones. Should the project not be on budget, council would have the opportunity to intervene, he said.

Mayor Nenshi applauds work of Coun. Keating

In his address to council, just prior to the vote, Mayor Nenshi thanked a lot of people for their work.

He singled out Coun. Shane Keating, who has driven the project from the start.

“When I heard him say today, as a guy who lives in the deep south, ‘I’m telling you, we’ve got to build north,’ that says it all,” Nenshi said.

“That says it all about the kind of person he is, the kind of public servant he is and the kind of leader he is in terms of building something that is right for the city, and that will make change forever.”

As he closed, Coun. Keating was appreciative of the support he’s received for the project over the years.

He thanked the citizens for their thousands of hours of public consultation and engagement to get the project to the point it’s at today.

“To finish, your Worship, in my discussion with (MP) Michelle Rempel, back in 2015, she said, ‘it’s projects like this is why you get into public service,” he said.

“And I think we must continue to understand that.”