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Premier Smith’s Green Line comments ‘frustrating’ says Calgary transit advocate

The UCP conducted a year-long review and ultimately approved the current business case for the $5.5 billion Green Line project.

Calgary Green Line advocate Jeff Binks called the Premier’s comments “frustrating.”

Premier Danielle Smith, in an interview with the Calgary Herald, raised concerns about the $5.5 billion transit project, particularly around the downtown tunnel.

In an email to LiveWire Calgary, the premier’s office said that Premier Smith understands that LRT is a critical investment for Calgary’s future economic growth and standard of living. They also confirmed their $1.53 billion commitment to the project.

“In addition to existing planned extensions, the Premier is interested in looking into options that would see Calgary’s LRT system extended to the Calgary International Airport,” read a response from Rebecca Polak, director of daily communications and press secretary to the Premier.

“She looks forward to further discussions with the City of Calgary.”

In the Herald piece by Don Braid, Smith said that she believes the south portion of the line is needed, but her concerns over the underground tunneling remained “high.”

The tunnel was not a part of the Premier’s response to LWC.

Currently, the Green Line is out for RFP, with two consortiums who passed muster in the request for qualifications.

Binks, president of the transit advocacy group LRT on the Green, said he thought this tunnel part of the conversation was behind Calgarians. He said the plan was approved by the former NDP government and was reviewed by Smith’s own government, and approved.

“To have the premier kind of musing that she wants to go back to the past and reconsider things that have been approved by her own party, it’s a little bit of a head scratcher and definitely frustrating,” Binks said.

LWC reached out to the mayor’s office for comments, but they declined.

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Airport link is needed

Many Calgarians believe a transit link to the Calgary International Airport is a priority.

The City of Calgary has done extensive planning and public engagement around an airport transit line. It’s not exactly a simple extension. In 2019, costs were estimated at between $900 million and $1.8 billion.

“If the Premier wants to arrive at the conversation with their chequebook open, I think absolutely we can explore building beyond the core stages of the Green Line and looking at things like a Blue Line extension to the airport,” Binks said.

He would rather see a firm commitment to getting the current Green Line route past Eau Claire and into the north portion of the city. That’s where potential ridership is the highest.

Binks is also concerned that the Premier wading into the conversation after the RFP risks the candidates coming back to the city with a slightly elevated bid due to the added uncertainty.

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer agreed that he’s betwixt and between on the notion of extensions further south, but pulling the plug on a downtown tunnel. The Green Line’s south leg is meant to extend and service deep southeast communities in the future.

“I really am torn in terms of obviously, going deeper into the South would be amazing,” Spencer said.

“I’m also very committed to the fact that for this line to do what it needs to do for Calgary, we have to do the open heart surgery downtown.”

Spencer said the value of the line shoots up “exponentially” by getting that downtown piece done right.

“I think we’re doing it the right away,” Spencer said.

Joe Ceci, NDP MLA for Calgary-Buffalo said the Green Line has been under so much scrutiny and been repeatedly reviewed.  He also said the UCP government approved the business case for the transit line.

“The Green Line is vital to our city. It will support jobs, reduce emissions, reduce commute times, and help revitalize our downtown,” Ceci said in a prepared release.

“But Danielle Smith is willing to risk all that through more changes to the design that will lead to delays and kill the project.”