Green Line LRT – Are You Ready To Do Something Incredible?

This week the Green Line LRT took a very important step forward.  At Council on Tuesday, three items received unanimous support from Council.  Here are the details of the items that were passed:

  • Green Line Southeast Transit Oriented Development Plan:
    • This plan outlined the integration of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) into the planning and design of the Green Line LRT. One of the key themes that arose during the debate is how to best incorporate parking into station design.  Parking will be a very necessary component of the Green Line, especially for the suburban stations.
  • Green Line Southeast Alignment and Stations:
    • This report outlined the alignment of the SE Green Line and established where some of the key stations will be located.  The Green Line must integrate well with the existing communities and existing infrastructure.  With Council approval the City of Calgary can now move forward on land acquisition along the SE alignment.
  • Notice of Motion: Asking the Provincial Government for Funding
    • Over the last number of months I have taken forward many conversations with the Provincial Government regarding the Province’s role in this project. While our Provincial colleagues have been receptive to this project, The City of Calgary has been continually reminded that a formal ask for funding has not yet been received.  I introduced this Notice of Motion to request that Mayor Nenshi make a formal request to the Provincial Goverment.  This action from the City should fast track discussions around Green Line funding.

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Next Steps

We now find ourselves at a very important crossroads for the Green Line LRT.  So where do we go from here?  There are a few key hurdles that still need to be navigated:

Funding

Thus far, this $4.6B project has just over $2B committed.  The funding model for this project would see each order of government contribute one-third of the project costs (roughly $1.53B each).

Funding model

                Federal Funding

Earlier this summer the Federal Government announced their intentions to fund the Green Line LRT.  We have received strong mseeages from the new Liberal Government that the Green Line is a priority and that the original funding commitment will be honoured.

There are a few ways that the Liberal Government can improve upon the original funding commitment.  The City of Calgary will continue to work with the Federal Government to specifically outline the steps required to submit an application and receive the funding.

Provincial Funding

To date the Provincial Government has not yet committed funds to the Green Line.  It is my hope that my Notice of Motion that requests a formal funding ask to the Province will kick start these discussions.  The Green Line currently has a lot of momentum, and in my opinion the City of Calgary needs to see a funding commitment from the Province between now and the March 2016 budget.

City of Calgary Funding

The City of Calgary made an initial funding commitment to the Green Line of $52M annually over 10 years ($520M).  This original funding commitment played a key role to move the Green Line forward and attract funding from the other orders of government.

The City of Calgary still needs to find an additional $1B for this project.  I will be bringing forward a new Notice of Motion that would see the City of Calgary extend the original funding commitment to 30 years.  By extending this program the City can secure its third of the funding without any tax increases on Calgarians.  In my mind this is the best solution to finding the City of Calgary third of the funding.

Downtown/North Central Alignment and Public Engagement

Team
The Green Line Team

The SE leg of the Green Line has recently completed the public engagement process.  The findings from the engagement process have been presented and approved by Council.  This process will be coming to the downtown and north-central legs very soon.

18 months ago there were many communities in the SE that were cautious about the Green Line.  While the injection of LRT into existing transportation infrastructure was seen as a huge positive, there were concerns about the impacts an LRT line might have on the existing community.

Fast forward to today and we see a very different picture.  Communities that were previously apprehensive are now very excited about this project.  This is a huge credit to the Green Line team for the tremendous public engagement program they took forward.  The City of Calgary heard communities loud and clear and found a way to weave the Green Line into the fabric and vision of the community.

Communities along the rest of the Green Line corridor will be facing new and unique challenges.  Much of the team that took forward the SE engagement has been brought in for the downtown and north central process.  Communities along the Green Line are in very good hands and will have their community concerns clearly and thoughtfully addressed as this project moves forward.

Timelines

As we gain more clarity on the funding envelope for the Green Line, the City of Calgary will have a clearer idea of what the timelines might look like.  Construction could begin as early as 2017 and phases of the Green Line could be operational by as early as 2021.  Construction is disruptive by nature, and we will need to identify how to mitigate the disruption to residents and businesses along the Green Line.  Most of the SE leg of the Green Line could move forward with minimal disruption to existing residents or businesses, but that will likely not be the case in downtown or north-central legs.  Construction is a necessary component of progress, but we still should be exploring ways to support residents and businesses through the process.

Why Momentum Must Continue

Calgarians want to see this project move forward.  The LRT on the Green Foundation recently commissioned a poll that asked Calgarians if they wanted to see the Green Line LRT constructed.  Of those familiar with the project better than 85% said yes.  Calgarians have clearly stated this project, now we must find a way to appropriately deliver.

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Discussing the Green Line with residents

We Must Fund this Project

The City of Calgary has turned to the other orders of government for funding support for the Green Line.  This comes with an understanding that the City of Calgary will contribute one-third of the project costs.

Extending the $52M to a 30 year commitment is the most reasonable way for City Council to move forward on this project.  This will not be a new tax on Calgarians, nor will it be an increase to the existing tax base.  I’ll make this very clear: Calgarians can fund their portion of the Green Line LRT without an increase to their taxes.

The LRT on the Green Foundation survey also asked Calgarians if they were comfortable with extending the $52M out to 30 years.  Of those familiar with the project nearly 60% expressed that they were happy with this funding method.  An additional 20% indicated that they were unsure and would need more details before making a decision.  Calgarians have sent a very strong message.

There are members of Council that have expressed hesitations about extending the $52M to 30 years.  If $52 over 30 is not the answer, then what is it?  I encourage my colleagues to either support this initiative, or find a funding solution that does not delay the project or put new tax increases on Calgarians.  $52M over 30 is the most responsible decision that we can make as a Council for funding this project.

It was raised at Council this week that the Green Line will be working under a very tight budget.  The West LRT had more funds allocated than was originally budgeted.  The West LRT went considerably over the initial proposed budget because there were additional funds available.  We will not have additional funding for the Green Line, and I think that is a positive thing.

What we need for the Green Line is $4.6B.  Due to the lack of any additional funding, the City will need to be very prudent and deliberate in the decisions we make on this project.  Pre-planning and consultation will be critical to make sure that we make the best decisions with the funds we have.  With clarity on the budget, we can find a plan to move forward and deliver the Green Line on time and on budget.

We Need to Trust the Public Engagement Process

Engagement PicWe have brought together some of the brightest minds in urban planning, engineering, architecture and transportation.  The engagement process in SE Calgary has established a new best practice for the City of Calgary.  I have tremendous confidence that the Green Line team will continue to establish a new best practice of how the City of Calgary can effectively weave massive transportation infrastructure projects into the unique fabric of existing communities along the Green Line corridor.

 

There have been suggestions that the Green Line could have a negative impact on areas like 10th Avenue, Eau Claire and Centre Street.  I will not hide from the fact that there will be many challenges on how to best integrate the Green Line into these well established areas.  With that being said, I would urge my colleagues on Council to have faith in this remarkable team that has been assembled.  The best interests of communities were at the forefront of the SE engagement process, and that precedent will continue along the rest of the alignment.

If We Build It, They Will Come

Some members of Council have questioned if the SE leg of the Green Line has the ridership to justify an LRT.  I feel obligated to remind my Council colleagues that this line will not be operational by 2017.

The 2015 Civic Census shows that there are over 113,000 Calgarians that live south of Glenmore Trail and east of the Bow River.   Most of these folks have very few transportation options and will benefit greatly from the construction of the Green Line.

Ward 12 grew by nearly 9% between 2014 and 2015.  New communities like Mahogany, Auburn Bay and Cranston are going to continue growing.  Council has also approved Area Structure Plans for new developments in Hotchkiss and Rangeview.  The population in SE Calgary is exploding.  If these growth rates continue, we could see as many as 188,000 Calgarians living south of Glenmore Trail and east of the Bow River by 2021.  With those figures in mind, please explain to me how ridership is going to be an issue?

Let’s Do Something Incredible

The Green Line LRT is one of the most ambitious projects that the City of Calgary has ever taken on.  Projects of this scope are always going to have important hurdles that need to be cleared.

What we are discussing is a multi-billion dollar investment into Calgary’s transportation infrastructure.  This project will see a reduction in city wide congestion by 10-15% and reduce the total vehicle kilometers travelled by 35-40%.  For any Calgarian that regularly uses Deerfoot Trail or Stoney Trail, these reductions are going to be a game changer.  The City of Calgary created a plan for these projects, and we have clearly demonstrated that we are ready.

Over the last 18 months we have taken dramatic steps to move the Green Line forward.  Folks in SE Calgary are starting to see real progress on a project that has been in the works for nearly 30 years.  That level of excitement is now spreading to the downtown and north central Calgary as this project becomes more and more real.

Calgarians have demonstrated that they are ready for this project.  My question to my Council colleagues is simple: are you prepared to do something incredible?