I was thrilled to hear that United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney will continue to support the Green Line, if he is elected Premier in the upcoming provincial election. Frankly though, his support should come as no shock. I can’t state how grateful I am for the support, both politically and financially, he and the Honourable Michelle Rempel provided to the Green Line when Mr. Kenney was still a Member of Parliament back in 2015. As an MP, Mr. Kenney was instrumental in getting the federal government to commit to providing funding for the Green Line and allowing enabling works for the line to already begin.
However, Mr. Kenney continued that when he was in federal politics, he had committed to funding a full, 46 km line and Phase 1 only includes about half that distance and blamed the difference in politics at City Hall. I am always happy to talk Green Line and would be happy to sit down with Mr. Kenney to go over what has happened since the federal funding commitment in 2015, but I recognize he’s going to be very busy ahead of the provincial election so can provide him some answers here.
The initial estimate for the full-length Green Line was very preliminary and entirely at-grade. An at-grade LRT is by far the cheapest way to build an LRT, but cheapest does not always mean best. The increased cost was not due to politics, but was due to a comprehensive and involved consultation with Calgarians, while also exploring best practices for light rail transit in other cities. Calgarians told us that they did not want another 7th Avenue, as at-grade would remove another downtown road for vehicle and cycling traffic. They told us to make an appropriate investment that would integrate well with downtown and that could only be accomplished by tunneling. While tunneling provides enormous advantages and will not result in long-term disruptions into and through downtown, it does significantly increase the complexity of the project and therefore the cost.
The decisions made by Council on Stage 1 of the Green Line were difficult and frustrating for many Councillors and, more importantly, Calgarians – particularly those that will not be reached by Stage 1. However, we had to balance delivering a project that would integrate well with downtown and continue to work into the future while also serving as many people as possible. As a result, Council approved building the most complex portion of the Green Line first. Because of Stage 1’s complexity, it represents the highest cost to build and we are getting that out of the way first. While this may represent approximately half the distance of the total planned Green Line, it is in no way half of the total cost of the project. As the Green Line team has pointed out to me, track is cheap. Once Stage 1 is built, a large portion of the remaining Green Line is, by and large, laying track. This means that with additional funding beyond 2026, Green Line expansion will be accomplished for significantly less than the initial investment.
Phase 1 will also still serve a significantly under-served population, as well as the highest concentration of jobs along the line. I truly want to see the Green Line make it to the far north-central portion of the city, but by going down to Shepard in Phase 1, the Green Line will serve approximately 129,000 jobs in the south on opening day. The picture below shows the projections for both population and jobs served in the south and the north.