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Green Line cost concerns testing the will of some Calgary city councillors

Three more months is what one Calgary city councillor wants to give the Green Line board before reconsidering if the transit megaproject is on the right track.

Councillors sitting in on Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting were told that inflationary pressures and labour and materials competition from other North American projects were elevating risk on the $5.5 billion transportation project.

Green Line board chair Don Fairbairn delivered the Q3 report and said they continue a fact-based approach to develop phase cost estimates constantly. Those are regularly reviewed by third-party agencies.

Fairbairn said that they don’t expect to make final commitments on the Green Line cost until they begin the main contract. That’s expected in the first half of 2024.

“And a lot can happen between now and then,” Fairbairn said.

One of the challenges in projecting a cost today is that we can’t see into the future, he said. Current economic indicators show that the level of cost escalation won’t continue. He said the inflationary numbers we hear now are “a backward-looking exercise.”

“Until we get through this next 12 months or so of, it would be fair to say, really significant global tensions, we won’t know,” Fairbairn said.

Right now, work is continuing on the Beltline utilities. Fairbairn said they’ve secured 98 per cent of the land needed for the southeast leg.

Cost escalation is a growing concern

Some councillors were worried costs for the project would balloon further.

Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean pointed to the Event Centre decision last year and the recent Deerfoot Trail upgrades being abandoned as examples of the impact of current economic conditions.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp asked Fairbairn if there was a point in time where we have to reconsider the original decision.

“Where in the timeline do we have opportunities to say, ‘just a second, we might have to revisit the way this is moving?’” Sharp asked.

Fairbairn said they’re regularly reviewing the ongoing – and upcoming – work to make sure they’re not building or spending where they don’t have to.

The example he used was ripping up a sidewalk in front of a business for work, laying a new sidewalk, only to have to rip it up again for additional work.

“We’re busy rethinking all of that so that we don’t do that,” Fairbairn said.

Still, outside of council chambers Wednesday afternoon, Coun. Sharp said she’s waiting to hear from the board once again before the end of this year.

“I think that’s the time where some of us need to re-evaluate what kind of track this Green Line is going on. No pun intended there. But, if this is going on the right track,” she said.

Coun. Sharp said she hopes councillors will get to review some of the upcoming stage gates before the project proceeds.

“I’m concerned of the inflationary costs that we see in general and want to make sure that this is the best project for Calgary,” she said.