Seeds of discontent sewn over the past few years around the alignment of Calgary’s $5.5 billion Green Line once again sprouted at city hall.
At Wednesday’s Green Line committee meeting, councillors were provided with an update on the Segment 2 functional LRT plan, which reiterated the council-approved alignment along 11 Avenue.
Currently, procurement on the transit megaproject is paused as the final stamp of approval is needed from the province. At Tuesday’s Priorities and Finance committee meeting, councillors heard the business case for the current plan should be submitted to the province within a couple of weeks.
Still, questions over the 11 Avenue, council-approved alignment remain.
Cody Clayton, President of Remington Developments, said that the group has significant concerns with this currently planned alignment. Clayton said that the prior alignment was approved by the majority of city planners and council back in September of 2017.
“Significant design and costing were completed on this original alignment to give the provincial and federal governments the confidence to invest over $1.5 billion each. Although this was not our first preference, we agreed to work to accommodate the 10 Avenue alignment as it was in the best interest of the major stakeholders in the area,” said Clayton.
“In late 2019, we became aware of plans to move the train along 11 Avenue, which came as a massive surprise. This alignment was the first to be dismissed during the extensive public consultation we engaged with over the past five years.”
Clayton said the original 10 Avenue alignment was the one best incorporated into the Rivers District master plan.
Ad-hoc citizens group
Jim Gray, who is part of a citizens group proposing alternatives to the 11 Avenue and underground plans for the Green Line, also expressed concerns with the plan.
Gray has appeared before committee and council on several occasions and was included on a recent letter once again asking for the downtown portion of the Green Line to be above grade.
He brought forward 10 points he hoped council would consider. Gray said this group supports the Green Line but was concerned it would run significantly over budget. He said this first section, at 20 kilometres, is projected to cost $5.5 billion. The entire line would cost more than $10 billion, making it the biggest public infrastructure project in Alberta history.
Gray said the city needs to have their business plan externally audited, operating costs must be included and ridership numbers re-examined. He also said there needs to be a provision for an overage on the budget.
“And finally, special attention must be given to the dramatic impacts of inflation that we’ve experienced in all levels of construction in the last several months,” Gray said.
He suggested this project could be over budget by as much as $2.5 billion.
“Mega rail projects have a nasty and persistent habit of going over budget,” he said.
Possibility of closed-door meetings
Coun. Jeff Davison, who recently announced his run for mayor, asked, after what he’d heard from the Remington presenters, if that group could be invited to a closed-door meeting to discuss the concerns.
“This is a bit concerning based on what we heard from Remington. We need to look into the issues in detail and process something back to council to ensure we have the full details in the most transparent and fair way,” Davison said.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it would be moot at this point to spend time adjusting the alignment.
“Council’s direction in June 2020 was extremely clear. It highlighted the fact that there was a deadline and that this very specific, bounded work had to be done. Council did that eyes wide open. We approved the 11 Avenue alignment at the public meetings prior to that, and there was a deadline. That deadline has now expired, and the Hail Mary pass to explore that alignment has passed,” Nenshi said.
Even if further discussions take place behind closed doors, Nenshi made it clear that there would have to be a council supermajority to overturn the June 2020 decision. That would take 10 of 14 council votes to begin considerations for changing the alignment.
Coun. Ward Sutherland supported Davison’s suggesting that some of these concerns be revisited, regardless if time had passed.
“I think we’re obligated to listen, and find out if it’s accurate or not,” he said.
It’s not clear if a potential change were to come if it must go through another public hearing process and ultimately a provincial review and re-evaluation for funding. If so, that could push a Green Line decision well past the upcoming municipal election.