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Mayoral candidates Field, Novak continue to question Calgary’s Green Line commitment

Two Calgary mayoral candidates have continued this week with their questioning of Calgary’s Green Line.

Brad Field and Zane Novak both raised further questions about the recently reaffirmed $5 billion transit project. Earlier this summer, the province reaffirmed its $1.5 billion commitment after reviewing a business case apparently submitted by the City of Calgary.

On the same day, less than an hour later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Calgary to reaffirm federal funding.

In its approval, the province wanted a change to the construction staging. Prior plans had the first stage of the line separated into three segments: Shepard to the Elbow River and then Elbow River through the downtown to Eau Claire.  The third segment was the north portion that would go over the Bow River to 16 Avenue N.

The province approved a change to one larger first segment – from Shepard to Eau Claire – and then, if money was available, the project would proceed north.

Brad Field said this week this would cost local jobs. He cited experts, including those at the Calgary Construction Association, who said the larger contract shuts out smaller, local businesses.

“By insisting the City bundle the first phase, the province has effectively tailor-made the project for a government-backed foreign company to swoop in with an overly-attractive offer and take the project benefits away from local companies and potentially local workers,” said Field.

“I want local companies to have equal opportunity to be part of this project because they are invested in our community and want to do what is best for the local economy and the future of the city.”

Calgary Construction Association: Bundling creates a delay

Bill Black, President and Chief Operating Officer with the Calgary Construction Association said the bundling not only forces a new RFP, but virtually ensures foreign consortium involvement.

Black said that in the previous $1.2 billion RFP, Canadian contractors PCL and Graham had to put together a joint bid to take on the risk. He expects Spanish or Italian conglomerates to take a crack at the now $4 billion first phase contract.

“That gives you an idea that two of the biggest contractors in Canada had to JV (joint venture), just to be able to realistically take on the risk and insurability of a 1.2 billion (project),” Black told LiveWire Calgary.

“You should be breaking this down into $500 million or less packages. That will maximize the opportunity for local involvement, and local management and local ownership of portions of the project and maximize the potential stimulus for the Calgary market at a critical time.”

Black is aware this consolidation was pushed by the province, not the city. He said the city was headed in the right direction. Despite letters sent by their group to Alberta Transportation, the province insisted this provided the greatest cost certainty, he said.

“All the evidence, globally, would indicate the exact opposite,” Black said.

Black acknowledged that local companies would likely be awarded work as subcontractors. Still, they often bring in their own workers or set up shop short term for the project, Black said.

Novak supports ad-hoc group idea

Both Field and candidate Zane Novak think more consideration needs to be given to downtown line options.

Novak doubled down in a recent media release on the proposal put forth by an ad-hoc group led by Calgary businessman Jim Gray.

“Alternative proposals to the Green Line are already on the table at City Hall, such as the one headed up by Mr. Jim Gray and the Ad Hoc Citizens’ Committee,” Novak said.

“They are effective, functional, less disruptive, and significantly more cost effective than this current iteration.”

Novak is also concerned that potential open trench construction for an underground downtown Green Line could cripple an already vacant core. He also said providing transit service to the airport is a higher priority than the Green Line.

“The northeast quadrant of our city houses a large portion of Calgary’s workforce, and the airport employs over 50,000 people. They need a rail line,” Novak said.

Field said the city needs to listen to experts who are “waving red flags” about the plan. He and Novak are concerned about Calgary taxpayers on the hook for cost overruns.

“I’m concerned we are going to blow the entire $5.5 billion budget on the first phase of the project, while continuing to strand riders north of the river and further south indefinitely,” Field said.

“I am a strong supporter of the Green Line and providing world-class transit to all quadrants of the city in the fastest, safest and most cost-effective way possible. That’s why I am urging the City and the province to pause and listen carefully to what the experts are saying before the train leaves the station.”