Half the Green Line for more cash than the entire line due to downtown tunnel: Nenshi
Councillors, mayor, touting Stage 1 proposal as good news while community in the north will wait undisclosed time for their LRT line
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What was sold as a 40 kilometre train from Calgary’s deep south to north at $4.5 billion is now a 20 kilometre LRT line from the mid-south grazing the city’s northeast for $4.6 billion.
On Thursday, Metro was first to report that administration had notified city council and the province about their recommended first stage of Green Line construction. The line, which was intended to stretch from Seton in the south to Keystone in the north all in one go, is now being sold as a several-step process starting at Shepard and ending after the train comes out of its downtown underground tunnel near 16 Avenue north.
“It's a great start for a project that will help us build our city,” said transportation boss Mac Logan. “To the folks where the stations won't be in their backyards as part of the first stage of construction, this is going to benefit the entire city in a number of ways.”
Logan said the LRT line, which will still be the city’s biggest infrastructure project, will help relieve congestion and improve service to the downtown.
“The downtown is the economic engine of the city and pays the majority of the property taxes,” said Logan. “So that benefits any Calgarian's property taxes across the city.”
Although Mayor Naheed Nenshi has the line shouldn't be built inch-by-inch and that it needed to serve both sides of the river in order to be a success, Logan noted the city didn’t have enough information in the beginning to promise the line in its entirety.
“It’s not a pretty big discrepancy, it’s gigantic. It's huge,” said Nenshi. “This has been the issue with Green Line for some time. Council, in making design choices, such as it has to be underground downtown, and in the Beltline, has significantly added to the cost.”
He added land acquisition has also turned out a little more expensive than first thought.
Ward 3 Coun. Jim Stevenson said there’s not going to be rioting in the north.
“The people in the area I represent are going to be as excited as I am about this announcement,” said Stevenson. “This means that we’re underway. There’s no way that this is something that’s starting and stopping.”
However some folks in the north are still concerned by the news. David Hartwick, first vice president and advocacy director of the Northern Hills Community Association, wonders why the maintenace yard can't be built in the Aurora Business Park instead.
"The ridership is well established in the north and our buses are full – well over the anticipated 60,000 expected for Phase 1," he said.
Hartwick also noted that the redevelopment of Harvest Hills and Highland Park golf course are based on transit access to accommodate the increased density.
"It seems that the communities of North Calgary continue to be forgotten by this city council," he said.
The mayor said a concrete start and end to the first phase means they can get the line operational while planning, or perhaps building, more stages.
On Monday, the mayor said councilors will begin to debate if that 20 kilometres is the “right” 20 kilometres to build and if the downtown underground alignment is still the way to go.
Coun. Shane Keating said this is the best scenario the city can do at this time.
LRT on the Green, a grassroots organization that’s been engaging citizens since day one, said this stage one announcement needs to be the beginning, not the end of the Green Line construction.
“When the conversation about funding began, we were under the impression that $4.6 - $5 billion would build the entire line and accounted for the tunnel portion downtown,” said LRTOTG president Jeff Binks.
“That cost estimate hasn't been talked about for some time and today I guess we know why.”
As for the residents in the north, Binks said they need a vocal leader.
“Council must now show leadership to demonstrate that they won't be forgotten,” Binks said.
“Conceivably it is possible that a phase 2 extension to North Pointe could be constructed alongside phase 1 if more funding is found. It will be up to the people of north Calgary to elect councillors this fall who will work to find them that funding.”