On October 4th, Council made one of the most important decisions for the future of the Green Line. Council provided approval in principle for a downtown option that would see a 4km tunnel extend from just south of the CP Rail tracks, under the downtown, under the Bow River and finally emerging at grade just north of 16th Ave N.
The Green Line project team has spent a tremendous amount of time studying our options through the downtown and consulting with key stakeholders. They have demonstrated to Council that the right option through the city centre is quite obvious: the right option is to tunnel.
Tunneling through the downtown makes sense from a technical and logistical perspective and I believe that it offers us the greatest return on our investment.
The tunnel option that Council approved in principle has an estimated price tag of $1.95 billion. At first glance this dollar figure may seem daunting, but we need to dive deeper into the numbers.
This is not just $1.95B for the downtown. This is $800M from the CP Rail tracks to Eau Claire, $500M to get us under the river, and $650M to get us up Centre Street to Tuxedo Park. The totality of the tunnel option enables us to make an important investment that stretches from the edge of the Beltline right into the heart of Tuxedo Park.
The Big Picture
Budgetary realities will require us to make some critical decisions as the Green Line moves forward, but we have an obligation to set the best foundation possible for the Green Line. This cannot just be about an infrastructure for Calgary today, these needs to be about a future Calgary that could double in size over the next 60 years.
The downtown is often referred to as the “livingroom” of any major city. The centre city is the space where we entertain guests, where we show off our art and where we create a comfortable space for everyone in the home.
While the living room is important, we cannot ignore the rest of our home. We need to recognize that we are a growing family. New communities in the outlying areas are experiencing rapid growth. We can’t ask our newest family members to sleep on the floor.
We can’t afford to cut corners in the centre city. This portion presents us with the greatest technical, logistical and community based challenges for the entire project. With that being said, we still need to recognize that the Green Line is not feasible unless we can reach communities that will generate the highest volume of ridership.
In 2014 southeast Calgary was home to 120,000 residents. By 2076 that number will balloon to 365,000. That’s an increase of over 200% in a roughly 60 years. Growth in the southeast will only continue to compound transportation issues unless new options are provided. Think Deerfoot Trail is bad now? Imagine what happens when you add another 100,000 vehicle trips. Bringing the Green Line to this fast growing area is not a want, it is an absolute need.
As a Council we are attempting to make decisions that will contribute to a more sustainable future for Calgary. That future includes additional transportation options for Calgarians and exploring ways to make more effective use of developable land within Calgary’s existing footprint. Council is talking a good talk on this priority, and Green Line gives us a great opportunity to walk the walk. The Green Line will be one of our most effective growth management tools to build a stronger Calgary for generations to come.
As a city we need to recognize the importance of laying the best possible framework for the Green Line. This means building a vision for a project that reaches the communities that will generate the ridership while integrating well with existing communities.
The decisions Council has made over the last number of years have brought us closer to greatly improving transportation options for hundreds of thousands of Calgarians. It is an undeniable fact that the Green Line will be built some day. Right now is our best opportunity to take this project from a vision to a reality. We have an opportunity to tap into a significant amount of funding from other orders of government; we have a fantastic team with some of the sharpest minds in the industry; we have a labour market with availability and appetite; we may have contract costs that stand to save taxpayers significant amounts of money, and most importantly – we have the support of Calgarians.
It is true that there are big parts of the Green Line’s future that are out of Council’s control. Without firm funding commitments from the other orders of government, this project will remain a vision. But Council’s approval of the centre city alignment sends a clear message to the other orders of government that we are prepared for their investments. We are committed to building a project that is both feasible AND well integrated.
I have been a strong advocate for the Green Line for a very long time. I am incredibly proud of the progress we have made and I feel as though a strong business case has been made to the province on why this is the right project for them to invest in.
The next few months are going to be critical. Calgarians will be watching closely in hopes that strong leadership at City Hall can secure a firm funding commitment from the Government of Alberta. We have created the product, what we need now is a salesperson to close the deal with our investors. That sales job really needs to come from Calgary’s highest political representative.
Local representatives have a detailed understanding of local issues. A project as comprehensive as the Green Line presents unique opportunities and challenges for the entire city. In order to keep our focus on the city wide benefits of the Green Line we are going to need to the Mayor to strongly advocate on behalf of all Calgarians that are going to be impacted by the Green Line. We need leadership that will not just acknowledge that this is biggest capital project we have ever undertaken; we need an advocate that will ensure Edmonton has absolutely no doubt what Calgary’s major transportation infrastructure priority is.
We have come a long way on the Green Line and the decision that Council made this week to tunnel through the centre city is another step forward. There are still hard decisions to come as we work through the realities of budgets and funding. These decisions need to consider impacts on the inner city while reconciling the need for this project to reach the outlying areas that are starving for transportation options. I have confidence that Council will continue to make the right choices.
However, if we really want to make this vision a reality we need the investment of the other orders of governments. As a city we need a leader to advocate for all Calgarians and send a strong message to the province that we have put in the work, we have a Council that is making the best possible decisions and that the time is now to join Calgary in bringing the vision of the Green Line to life.