Green Line project managers now facing ‘crunch time’

Next stop – crunch time: A CTrain passes a pedestrian crossing on SAIT campus on Sept. 23. A city council committee has told Green Line project managers that they have until January 2020 to come up with a final decision for the downtown alignment of the planned line. (Photo by Lou De Asis/The Press)

The Green Line project team is now in crunch mode as they have until January 2020 to determine the recommended route for the line’s downtown segment.

On Sept. 18 at the Calgary Municipal Building, the team presented its quarterly status update at a meeting city council’s transportation committee.

Stage one of the $4.9-billion Green Line will link 16th Avenue North at Centre Street to Shepard in the southeast.

Project manager Jon Lea told councillors the planers are re-evaluating the five-kilometre downtown segment of stage one, between the community of Ramsay and Centre Street.

“We are investigating options that shorten the length of the tunnel, reducing the number of underground stations, and bringing more of the route to the surface,” Lea said.

Other options, such as building the alignment underneath the existing 7th Avenue South LRT corridor, along the CP tracks, and key east-west avenues, are also being considered.

If somebody decides that they want to revisit it and pull the funding, good luck getting the money back. –  George Chahal

During Wednesday’s meeting, councillors voiced their concerns about the current state of the project.

“I’m worried about the timeline considering we’ve been at this for years,” Councillor Druh Farrell said.

“We’re now rushing the most important decision of this whole project in three months.”

Farrell also told the project team that public trust in council was eroding as a result of the delays over the downtown alignment.

“I’m going to take a leap of faith and continue to support this project but it’s not without reservations and I may withdraw my support at some time,” Farrell said.

Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said that he has issues with the cost uncertainty of the project and its vision.

“For me, the biggest reason for changing course on the underground portion is because it didn’t meet the vision.”

“We went through extensive public consultation and established a very clear vision about how we wanted this incredible piece of transportation to interface with our communities,” Carra said.

Councillor Evan Woolley said with the clock ticking closer to January, the project is now facing crunch time.

He questioned the project team about the appearance and length of the line’s tunnel portals.

“The certainty that I need to support this project is having a very good sense by January of what this thing is going to look like at grade, and how that portal is going to happen and where it’s going to happen.

“I don’t have that trust and confidence now, and I know that this is a quarterly update, but I’m not supporting it,” Woolley said.

Councillor Jeff Davison said it is now necessary to rush the project in order to continue moving on.

“Some people will say that you can’t rush these things. I would absolutely say for the cost we have going out the door, we absolutely have to rush these things and get on with it,” Davison said.

“We’re going to be looking at a full-scale pause or revision of the entire project.”

Another concern is that the team is moving critical portions of the project aside.

Councillor Jyoti Gondek said her biggest fear is having the north leg put “on the back burner” as the project team continues to focus on the downtown and southern segments of the line.

“If we do need to do that because we’re resource-strapped, you have to be honest with us and say that we don’t have time and capacity to look at the north leg right now,” Gondek said.

“If we are not giving the north leg the attention it needs now, it won’t be ready to go when we have money for phase two.”

Councillor George Chahal said that he wanted the project to continue to move forward.

“We owe it to Calgarians to do so.”

Chahal also told his colleagues on the committee that it is time to stop playing politics and work together.

“If somebody decides that they want to revisit it and pull the funding, good luck getting the money back,” Chahal said.

“There are a dozen cities across this country that want that money, and they will take it.”

Enabling works for the Green Line is currently underway, with the construction of stage one to begin in 2020.

The completion of stage one is estimated to be in 2026.