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Green Line north segment in jeopardy as Calgary deals with cost concerns

Rising costs on the $5.5 billion Green Line LRT project could put the north segment of the line beyond the Eau Claire station on hiatus, LiveWire Calgary has learned.

Calgary city councillors had a closed session where they received a Green Line update Monday. Later this week, the Green Line Board will meet publicly.

The city’s largest-ever infrastructure project has been caught in a logjam with the province over technical issues, cost control and governance. Purchasing on the project was paused late last year while the two sides sorted things out.

Now, it looks as though ongoing delays have pushed the project into uncharted territory.

Calgary’s plan for this current alignment had always been to break the current Green Line project into three segments: Segment 1 (Elbow River to South Calgary), and Segment 2a and 2b. Segment 2a is the portion from the Elbow River to Eau Claire; 2b is the portion from Eau Claire north to 16 Avenue N.

At the time they said they did it to ensure the projects could be monitored for costs and to increase accessibility to bidders, hopefully driving the cost down slightly. They also said they would do the first two segments and then examine the potential for continued construction to the north with remaining funds.

Last month, Mayor Nenshi said he was concerned post-pandemic inflation would hamper the Green Line progress.

“This is something that we’re investigating right now,” the mayor said.

“It’s one of the unexpected things about the COVID pandemic is that the prices of basic materials have gone through the roof. Lumber is more expensive now than ever. And we anticipate that steel and concrete may follow.”

Motion on ensuring future funding goes to Green Line completion

Coming out of the Green Line closed-door session, Coun. Jyoti Gondek brought forward a motion arising that asked for city council to direct 50 per cent of future federal and provincial transit funding to the completion of the full Green Line, “with an emphasis on completing the Council approved Segment 2b and North Central convertible mobility corridor.”

Councillors were concerned that this motion was a direct result of conversations of Monday’s closed session.

“It’s really to provide some extra protection, and make sure that the full project is completed as they get funding from the other two orders of government,” said Coun. Jyoti Gondek when she put the motion forward.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Nenshi said that because of the way the city’s procurement is working, they want to make sure it takes people where they want to go.

“The last thing you want to do is build something that doesn’t connect to anything,” he said.

“You don’t want to end up in a situation like Toronto, where they built the Sheppard subway and never really extended it, so it really became just a subway to the IKEA and nothing else.”

LiveWire Calgary asked the province about the alignment. Alberta Transportation press secretary Mckenzie Kibler said that the city and the province continue to work together positively.

He pointed to recent statements from Transportation Minister Ric McIver that there’s no timeline they’re supposed to meet on this.

Kibler confirmed no decisions had been made on the alignment at this point.

Escalation could have been avoided: Coun. Keating

“At one time the Green Line was ahead of the wave,” said Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating, a major driver behind the Green Line project.

“Now we’re at the bottom of the wave due to delays.”

Keating said had the project been in motion when it was approved in June 2020, the city could have avoided many of the current cost escalations association with the post-pandemic recovery.

He points the finger at the province, saying delays with the original payments and the insertion of the 90-day cancellation clause “really shook up the market.”

“Then the third thing they did is they came out last July, after we approved it at a 14 to one vote, they said they’re doing a review,” Keating said.