The $23.7M Question – What We Heard

It should come as no surprise that the Green Line LRT was a main focal point of my re-election campaign. During this campaign I have taken the time to reflect on how far we’ve come, where I feel we’ve come up short and where we go from here. My conversations with Ward 12 residents has made one thing abundantly clear – the Green Line matters.

How did we get here?

There have been conversations about an LRT to southeast Calgary since 1983. While some preplanning had taken place, there was no meaningful progress to make a southeast LRT a reality until after 2010. Most importantly, there was no funding for the project. Without funding, there was no way forward.

During my first term I successfully passed a Motion that saw a feasibility study conducted for the southeast LRT. This study looked at what the alignment would look like, where the stations would be and how the line would integrate with our communities. Subsequent studies also realigned the north portion from the Nose Creek valley to a much more logical location on Centre Street. These were the first real steps for the Green Line as we know it today.

I kicked off my second term by successfully encouraging a majority on Council to support committing $52M annually for 10 years to the SE Transitway. The plan was to start with a bus dedicated service and eventually transition into full LRT once more funding became available. In the spring of 2015 I convinced Council to shift our focus from a dedicated bus service to a full-fledged LRT in hopes we could attract investments from other orders of government.

So where did that get us? In the summer of 2015 we secured a $1.53B funding commitment from the Government of Canada. I played a key role in lobbying for that commitment. Later in 2015 I successfully brought forward a Motion that saw Council shift our $52M annual commitment from 10 years to 30 years – this totaled $1.56B in local funding for the Green Line.

2017 may have been the busiest Green Line year of all. Council approved the vision, alignment and station locations for the full project and approved Stage 1 of the project which extends from 16th Ave N to 126th Ave SE. This was followed by a funding commitment of $1.53B from the Government of Alberta in July.

So, to recap:

Since I was elected in 2010 we completed a feasibility study of the Green Line, approved the full vision for the project, approved Stage 1 for construction and secured $4.65B in funding from three orders of government.  At long last we can point to a firm date on a calendar when LRT will be coming to southeast Calgary! That’s a tremendous amount of progress in 7 years, and I keep hearing from Ward 12 residents that we need to keep pushing.

But there are areas where we have come up short

Folks in southeast Calgary have been starved for better service for a very long time. For many, the LRT can’t come soon enough. But we need to reconcile that this process takes time. The construction period for the project is 6 years at minimum. A project of this size and scope also requires extensive study and consultation. If we want to integrate this project properly into our communities, we had to take the time to talk to the people who live there – and that’s exactly what we did.

We also aren’t pushing Stage 1 as far to the north or southeast as we had originally hoped. That is in part to many of the decisions that Calgarians told us to make, specifically in downtown. If we are going to proceed with this project, there was an understanding that we should find a way to do it right the first time. But that has come with sacrifices, especially in the suburbs.

There are some folks out there that are suggesting we are only building half the line at a higher cost than initially projected. That’s an inherently misleading comment. While Stage 1 is half the length, we cannot ignore that it incorporates all the most costly and complex components of the project. I’ll use the analogy of building a house. In Stage 1 we are pouring the foundation, doing the framing, putting a roof on the house, building the master bedroom, building the kitchen and the bathrooms. We are going to need to add some living space and additional bedrooms very soon, but that won’t be as costly or as complicated as what we are taking on in Stage 1.

What comes next?

I believe there is value to be found in Stage 1 of the project. The procurement and contracting component of this project could help us find some additional value in the original funding envelope. I believe that we should place a premium on bids that commit to building more of the line while still offering the highest quality product possible. It is an additional $300M to bring the line from Shepard Station to McKenzie Towne Station. I believe that is something I believe we can accomplish in Stage 1.

We also need to set our sights to the next stages of the project. Should funding come available, I believe additional stages could be taken forward concurrently with Stage 1. That could mean staggered openings in the north and south that expand the service shortly after we open Stage 1 in 2026. Council will need to identify the next stages and start thinking about how to pay for them. These are the discussions that we need Calgarians to be front and centre for.

I sense a strong appetite from Calgarians to keep pressing forward with the Green Line. But moving forward means unlocking additional funding. Before we go down that route, I wanted to take the time to hear from Ward 12 residents on how they wanted to proceed.

During this campaign my team and I ha been asking the $23.7M question. I wrote about what that means in a blog article earlier in the campaign.

My team and I knocked on over 25,000 doors and surveyed more than 4,000 Ward 12 residents. And what did we hear? 90% of Ward 12 residents want to see $23.7M dedicated to the Green Line.

Based on that feedback, here is my commitment:

If I am successfully re-elected I will work with Council to bring forward a Motion that dedicates the $23.7M in tax room to the Green Line. Committing this funding over a 30-year period would give us more than $700M for the Green Line. That funding alone would go a long way to stretch the line further into our communities. If it successfully brought additional investments from other orders of government, it may allow us to come close to completing the full vision.

Now is the time to keep pushing forward. We started this process 7 years ago, and I believe we are coming close to finishing the job.