Council to Decide on Green Line Stage 1

The next two and a half months are going to be critical for the Green Line LRT. Council has a decision to make on how the project will be staged as well as final decisions for the full alignment and station locations. The first of those decisions will come on Monday with the final vision coming before committee and Council in June and July.

On Monday, Council will be presented with Administration’s recommendation for Stage 1 of the Green Line.  Stage 1 is recommended to run from 16th Avenue North (Crescent Heights) down to 124 Avenue SE (Shepard).

Here are some of the facts about this first stage:

  • 20 km of track and 14 stations (includes the downtown tunnel, maintenance facility and new low floor LRT vehicles);
  • Serves 60,000-65,000 Calgarians on opening day;
  • Cost $4.65 billion with anticipated funding from three orders of government;
  • Construction begins in 2020 (some pre-construction work is starting in the southeast this year) with an anticipated opening date of 2026;
  • Creates 12,000 direct construction jobs and 8,000 supporting jobs over 10 years;
  • Reduces 30,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent of roughly 6,000 vehicles off the road on opening day.

LET’S NOT FORGET HOW FAR WE HAVE COME

Now more than ever it is important to reflect on how far we have taken this project. When I first joined Council in 2010 this project was hardly on the radar of The City. In 2013 we were talking about a dedicated bus lane for southeast Calgary. Today we are on the verge of breaking ground on one of the most important projects in Cal
gary’s history. That is a tremendous amount of progress in seven short years.

Over the last few years we have been talking about the full Green Line project from north-central Calgary down into the deep southeast. As pre-planning and cost estimations progressed, it was recognized that in order to deliver the project it would need to be staged. The work we have done to consult with communities and plan out aspects of the line are still very meaningful, but changes to our deliver plans were needed to fit within our anticipated funding envelope.

STAGING CRITERIA

Administration had direction regarding Council’s staging priorities. Here are some of the priorities and how they impacted Administration’s recommendation:

Feasibility – In order to build a stage of LRT we have to ensure that the operations are feasible. This means having a line that has the needed infrastructure to run properly while being able to justify operating costs. In order to have a feasible stage it was determined we needed a maintenance facility and access to the downtown core. Stage 1 satisfies both by linking the maintenance facility (Shepard Station in the SE) to the beginning of the downtown tunnel in the north.

Expandability – An initial stage needs to set the project up for future stages. The start of the project needs to compliment the completion of additional phases. Stage 1 makes future expansion to the north and southeast much more attainable. Delays with land acquisition along Centre Street could cause some issues with immediate expansion to the north, but future expansions will be much simpler from a financial and technical perspective.

Unlocking New Ridership – When it comes to Calgary Transit coverage, southeast Calgary is still lagging far behind other areas of the city. Conversely the north-central has very high Calgary Transit ridership especially along Centre Street. Stage 1 has the potential to greatly expand city-wide ridership by providing high-frequency service that currently does not exist in southeast Calgary.

Financial Feasibility – The ultimate question – can we afford the project? Administration had to present a first stage that fit within our budgetary envelope. When we started this process there were high level estimates that we may be able to complete the entire line for $4.5B to $5B. Calgarians have made it clear to Council that if this project is to serve our city for decades to come; we need to get it right the first time. While ultimately I believe the decisions we have made were the right ones, they have also been the most expensive. As cost estimates became clearer it was apparent that we would not be able to complete the full project in that initial funding envelope. Stage 1 fits within our funding envelope assuming all three orders of government deliver on anticipated funding commitments.

STAGE 1 IS A STARTING POINT AND BRINGS THE FINISH LINE IN SIGHT

Perhaps an obvious statement, but one worth making – this project has to start somewhere. I am well aware that there are a number of concerns with Stage 1 and that there are a lot of communities that are disappointed. But I cannot stress this point enough – this project must get started.
There are a multitude of properties that still need to be accumulated along the north-central alignment. Completion of the land acquisition could take as much as 3-4 years. Escalation costs are being estimated at roughly $100 million per year. Waiting for land acquisition to be completed would no longer allow us to deliver a feasible first stage of the project with the funding we expect to have.

By my own estimations delaying the start of construction another 3-4 years would mean operations would be pushed back somewhere closer to 2030. The Stage 1 recommendation would have trains running by as early as 2026. I think it is important to recognize that stages of this project may be able to move forward concurrently.  If additional funding streams can be identified, it is entirely likely we could have another stage of the Green Line well in hand by 2030. That should be something firmly on the radar of elected representatives along the Green Line corridor. With the most complex and costly aspects of the line completed, there will be ample opportunities to extend the project.

Council needs to make a decision. Initially we needed to decide if the benefits outweighed the costs of a $4.5B-$5B investment in the full Green Line project. Now Council needs to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs of a $4.6B investment in Stage 1. I believe that’s a worthwhile investment and I look forward to our discussion on Monday.

Previous Green Line Posts:

Green Line LRT – Moving From Vision to Reality 

Staying on Track – Green Line Receives Funding Injection 

Critical Juncture for the Green Line LRT