Green Line Credibility

I’ve always had great respect for Transportation Minister, Ric McIver. As an individual and as an elected official, and I still do.

However, the statement the Alberta Government and Minister McIver’s office provided on Dec 17th, regarding the current hold-up of Calgarian’s Green Line is just an inaccurate statement.

An inaccurate statement that I will happily and respectfully address. As my constituents have come to expect.

Here’s the statement in question (twitter post). You can read Madeline Smith’s full Calgary Herald article here

Here’s the short form, 

1. Did The City put out a credible plan?

2. Is this actually a “train to nowhere?”

3. Should the report be made public?

Time to pull out the teacher’s red pen. I’ll show my work and you can follow along.

Let’s talk about did The City of Calgary put forward a credible plan?

Absolutely. It’s hardly a shot in the dark. 

What we’re seeing is Phase 1 from 16th Avenue North to Shepard in the South. This is being broken into 3 segments.

The first segment, from Elbow River to Shepard is the least complicated and we happen to have decades of experience in building quality LRT projects.

So we started there, and nailed down the costs. We know the risks are low, and we are ready for construction.

Seriously, give me a shovel- I’ll start the digging.

Moving forward with this segment is paramount.  This is laying the foundation for the other segments.

Why am I so confident? This is in part due to The City’s progressive procurement style.

The City’s progressive procurement style is well planned out and means that we are dividing the whole project into manageable portions and install segments. We have learned that we can build from one segment to the next easier, and that this approach allows for smaller companies to bid on the project.

The fact is, the larger the contract the fewer corporations can actually bid on it. It’s a multi-billion dollar job. By splitting things up, we make bidding more accessible and each segment is like steps of a ladder, building on each other while creating a solid footing to move on to the next segments.  

I’d like to reiterate, that we heard over and over again through our engagement with the community, the Green Line Team, and many external experts, to not build too big of contracts. Why? Because you’re short-changing all of the possible builders who would like to bid a section of the project that they are best suited to construct–empowering them to do what they do best.

Too large of contracts are not good for local companies, and it would mean only a select few bidders could handle the contract.

That’s just plain good business. That is the type of decision that puts food on someone’s table.

Segment 2a is from Elbow River to Eau Claire. This is the most complicated part. The difficulty with this segment stems from the unknown unknowns. You can plan, adjust, and think of all the things that could go wrong, but if you don’t know what’s under the ground as you’re going through the core, it’s possible you might hit something unexpected.

This is where the tunnelling and the style of tunnelling will be decided on–once we begin the previous segment. Here is where we will decide if it’s bored, cut and cover, or a number of other construction styles. We have consistently heard that the unknown unknowns or these aspects of underground construction present the most variables. But we actually have to take the cover off and get into the ground to see what is underneath.

It’s hard to say exactly what’s wrong with an engine when we haven’t even popped the hood.

So, what we’re saying is that Segment 1 is something the City has decades of experience building. We’re good to go. Start here, and let’s get some jobs created in this economy and get things rolling.

We are not rushing blindly into action, but we have to start somewhere.

This whole plan is based on a design-build-finance model. A DBF. Many large contracts are done this way, and we aren’t doing anything uncommon.

All city-shaping projects like this start with a functional plan, which for the LRT, included a rigorous selection of the best alignment, (where stations would go, etc.) Then cost estimates and finally a request for proposal (RFP). This is a solid year of study and discussion before we can start to pin down the fine details.

Why? Because it is up to the potential builders, three or four different large companies, to iron out many of the details and facets of the project in collaboration with The City. This is an important part of the RFP process.

Then, when the contract is awarded, the contractor is responsible for the final detailed plan, down to every nut and bolt.

These companies spend millions of dollars going through this process.  

Now that we’re into a DBF, so the successful builder actually builds, designs, and finances it. They are getting paid in intervals. So the DBF means the proponent bidder actually has to design it as laid out through the request for proposal (RFP) process. This can take a year and you do not get into the very fine detailed designs until the process is complete.

For up to a year of the RFP process, the Green Line Team, (the ones who work for The City,) and all of the experts they have hired, work together to ensure the project is done correctly. It goes back and forth with each of those companies until they have a design nailed down.

This often produces the best quality of work. People tend to stick to what they are good at.

The type of overpasses, tunnels, construction styles, time-frames, all of these details are worked out with the company long before the contract is awarded. Once the contract is awarded, it’s up to the company to do the finely detailed engineering. We’re talking about the full definition of every aspect of the project development.

One of the proposed fixes to the “train to nowhere” issue that the Province has flagged is creating a larger contract that includes the downtown core (7th Ave to Shephard). While this would indeed ensure that, from the beginning, the line would serve the core–it would also implode efficiencies that are wisely baked into The City’s plan.

This contract would be half of the tunnelling necessary and a long conventional build. The downtown segment (2a) was specifically made as a separate segment to enable the very best partnership for this all-important portion of the Green Lines construction.

Another efficiency this would implode is some extremely important risk mitigation. There are contingencies for the unknown unknowns that are being factored in. Keeping the Segments distinct from each other allows for far more flexibility in worst-case scenario outcomes.

Even if you were to accept this and stop at 7th Avenue you are going to have to go well past 7th Avenue to allow the cars to change directions, which would create a whole new set of issues to unravel. I see no sense in doing half a tunnel, we should tackle the core as one integrated strategy. That is just common sense.

Even if we started with the connection into downtown being the major focus we should be starting Segment 1 now and immediately launch a full investigation for the best downtown treatment and create new stage gates based on the evidence.

There cannot be a one-size-fits-all contract for many reasons.

So has the plan been credible? Absolutely.

Has it been done correctly? Absolutely.

Anyone who says we don’t have a clear and detailed plan isn’t paying attention.

Our plans for the Green Line are a demonstration of our credibility. They cover the functional and detailed parameters of Phase 1. At a surface glance they could be misconstrued as missing seemingly key features because not all of the completed fine details of let’s say, an overpass are present. That’s done once the contract is awarded

Timing is key, and we have the process and steps all worked out.

Let’s touch on the order of things. If you look at the recommendations on June 15th, 2020, Combined Meeting of Council, there were 17 of them. The first being, start with Segment 1. Right away. Because it’s ready to go, it’s easy to build, and we can move forward from there. Then work on Segment 2a over the next number of months, let’s nail down the exact alignment, for example the difference between 9thAvenue, and 11th Avenue, integration statements into future developments, and things like that. Then we can look at Segment 2b, Eau Claire to 16th Avenue.

But it’s not changing the project.

Like I said earlier, we can come back in 2021 and look at going out for an RFQ, then a RFP (where a lot of the fine details are done,) and move through the process as planned.

We make sure Segment 2a is completed from Elbow River to Eau Claire. Then we go forward and look at Segment 2b. (Eau Claire to 16th Avenue.) The recommendations clearly state not to start Segment 2b until construction of Segment 1 is well underway, all of its risks are identified, the price is known, and then we move on. We don’t start 2b until 2a is also well on its way.

Not only are we breaking the complete phase 1 into 3 segments, we are a employing a progressive procurement style, with an extremely healthy contingency fund.

Our robust contingency fund is for the unknown unknowns. To guarantee we’re not going over the budget.

Credibility, accountability, foresight.

Sounds like we know what we are doing.

Segment 2b, Eau Claire to 16th Avenue is very similar to Segment 1. We build a bridge over the river, we go at-grade down Centre Street, make improvements to the street scape as we go, and we make our way to 16th.  Again, this is something we have done for decades. If we are capable enough to construct Segment 1, then it’s proof that we are credible in the design, construction, and implementation of Segment 2b.

This shows the credibility of the plan. We are on track and ready to execute on a well-developed and formulated Phase 1.

The first step of this is to move forward on Segment 1. The least complicated Segment.

This progressive procurement style is an embodiment of our strong approach to the Green Line. Start with something less complicated, knock it out of the park, and move on to the most complicated, look at the unknown unknowns, mitigate the risks, ensure it’s going well, and tackle the rest of Phase 1.

2. Train to nowhere?

Alright, a train to nowhere. Catchy little tune, of political trash talk. But really, is it a train to nowhere?

It’s the largest component of Phase 1, running from Shepard in the deep South, close to 130th Avenue, and all the way to the Elbow River. It goes through the industrial park, densely populated areas in the South, and stops at the Elbow River.

For one reason only!

It sets the stage for the next segment.

The most complicated segment where we start with tunneling.  This builds on the momentum of the project, and that’s why we should end it at Elbow River in the first contract, and then go forward.

You are not compounding complicated issues, like tunnelling in 2a and conventional build above ground in Segment 1.  Tunnelling and conventional builds require different experts and construction styles, so why combine them in one contract? Isn’t there a smart saying about not putting all your eggs in one basket?

If we look at the plan and divide it into thirds, this is one-third of the plan. Segment 2a from Elbow River to Eau Claire, is one third, and Segment 2b Eau Claire to 16th Avenue.

So, if this is a train to nowhere, and if people are actually saying that we will start this and stop at Elbow and run out of money, is absolutely ludicrous.

That would mean that not just the Green Line Team (who are city hall employees,) but all of the external expert companies they hired, and every consultant would be hundreds and hundreds of percent off their estimates.

That’s just not a credible line of thought.  

What is credible, is that this plan, in its conception and execution, is a demonstration of the City’s capabilities.

This is not a train to nowhere, it’s the first phase in a three-phase progressive procurement style, an approach that many mega infrastructure projects utilize to great success.

3. Should the report be made public?

Should the Alberta Governments’ consultant’s report be public? No, it should never. This is commercially sensitive information that should not be in the public’s hand, or either an elected official’s. The report was never asked to be made public.

This is a deflection of the real ask. This is answering a question that was never asked. Political distraction 101.

The Green Line Team has asked many times, to have the report shared with them in order to address the detailed difficulties this program has.

The answer has always been no. So the problem stands,

How can you address concerns without knowing the specifics of that concern?

It’s easy to say we have a cost estimate concern, a procurement concern, but unless you get into the actual fine details of these things, how can they actually be addressed?

Thankfully, it sounds like discussions are now going well. Although it’s unfortunate it took this long to start, so I hope it continues.

I’ll repeat though, the report was never asked to be made public, it should not be made public, it was asked to be shared on a confidential agreement with the Green Line Team, and only them so that they can provide all of the data and answers for your concerns.

That’s all it was, and that’s how it should have stayed. 

It’s time for the AB Government to listen to the experts, because it sounds like a problem is being created when there isn’t one.

The capable professionals on the Green Line Team are not the only ones who developed a solid and credible plan.

This is an outright refusal by the Province to acknowledge the tremendous body of work conducted by the Green Line Team, and the many external companies and consultants that have participated in the review process.

You may think I sound biased, because the Green Line Team is composed of members who work for The City. These individuals are skilled in procurement, engineering, financing, costs, and construction. And these are not the only ones saying our plan is solid and credible.

They have worked alongside a plethora of international consultant companies, have conducted many external reviews, and have operated constantly with the needs of Calgarians at the forefront of their minds during this entire process.

Simply put, we have many greatly skilled and knowledgeable individuals working on the Green Line Team, and they are working with many greatly skilled and knowledgeable individuals in the execution of this transit mega project. 

At this point I’ve gotten quite used to explaining things over and over again. Especially for those who choose not to listen.  As I explained in my letter to the Premier, which I’ll post below, it’s time to listen to the experts. Especially when they number in the hundred’s and are all giving the green light to the Green Line.

These internationally recognized companies represent a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in developing and delivering city-changing mega-projects. Financial experts, engineers, assessment analysts, risk management professionals, procurement strategists, all these individuals, in the eyes of the Alberta Government, do not measure up to just one of their consultants.   

Here is a sample of the expert consultants and international companies that the Green Line Team have collaborated with over the course of the last 5 years, ensuring that everything brought before Council is credible.

  • Hatch –international transit and rail solutions advisor, currently acting as the owners engineer for the Green Line Program
  • KPMG –international infrastructure mega project experience, acting as Financial and Commercial advisors within Canada and abroad
  • Blakes –broad P3 legal expertise working with many jurisdictions and within many programs across Canada
  • SMA Consulting – expertise in Risk management and project controls with significant experience assisting the City of Edmonton with various LRT projects
  • Hanscomb Limited –expertise in cost estimating – used to assess reasonability of the approaches used on the Green Line Program
  • Steer Group –expertise in LRT business case development and assessment having prepared business cases for a number of LRT programs across Canada
  • Stantec – expertise in LRT and enabling works construction throughout Canada

These companies have provided even further due diligence on costing and enhanced risk management around the project.

So if the Government of Alberta believes that this distinguished list of Canadian and international companies is not credible, then who is?

On June 15, 2020, City Council voted 14-1 to move forward with Segment 1 of Phase 1,  and made 17 recommendations. A number of these recommendations, guarantee that the project is financially viable and the alignment is sound.

The decision was made not to alter the current Green Line plans, but to look for any improvements. Just small tweaks.

We have absolute faith in our process, the road we paved to get to this point was made possible because we engaged with the community, industry professionals, and a tirelessly working Green Line Team, all of whom are dedicated to providing Calgarians with their long-awaited, world-class transit solution. Their Green Line.

Here are some great examples of the recommendations Council approved.

You can view all of these recommendations in the June 15th Combined Meeting of Council Confirmed Minutes, here  

What we did was break Phase 1 into 3 segments.

  • Segment 1: Elbow to Shepard
  • Segment 2: Elbow to Eau Claire
  • Segment 3: Eau Claire to 16th Ave

Once again, here’s the pertinent info from that June 15th, 2020 Combined Meeting of Council. We start with the construction of Segment 1, we review Segment 2 for slight changes, and don’t start Segment 3 until 1 and 2 are in the ground and risks are approved.

So, looking at this documentation, if these aren’t credible, then what is?

The Province’s perceived complications are just a case of putting the horse before the cart.

As it stands, Segment 1 is ironclad and ready to proceed.

Council directed Administration to undertake a review of the Stage 1 alignment and to complete a series of due diligence activities to confirm that Stage 1 has the right alignment, that Stage 1 is the right project for Calgary and that it will be delivered using the right approach. The report presented recommended updates to the Green Line Stage 1 alignment and confirms:

1. That the updated Stage 1 alignment is the right alignment that can be delivered within budget, manage risk, achieve the Green Line vision and deliver the best value for Calgarians.

2. That the updated Stage 1 alignment is the right project for Calgary and meets the objectives set by Council, and the investment in Stage 1 will have significant mobility and urban development benefits for the City and provide long-term benefits to downtown real estate values and City assessed value.

3. That Administration has set up the right approach to enhance Council and Calgarians trust and confidence in The City’s ability to deliver the Green Line Program on time and on budget.

Taken from, https://pub-calgary.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=133229 2020 June 1 Green Line Committee Report

Segment 1 of the Green Line needs to get started as soon as possible.

In the best interest of transparency, here’s the letter I wrote to the Premier.

While it might not be filled with colourful rhetoric, it contains the facts. The truth of the matter is that we were not given a credible explanation for the Alberta Government’s perceived issues on Calgary’s Green Line.

Council listened and wanted third party oversight to review our plans, so the Technical Risk Committee was formed.

  • Donald C. Fairbairn,
  • Erich Neugebauer,
  • Albert Sweetnam,
  • Eric Tromposch,

The shear amount of experience these individuals carry, working on mega projects is astounding. If you look at their exhaustive credentials, the years of experience and expertise they carry, and believe them to not be credible, then who is?

Here is the link to their 18 page Curricula Vitarum, so you can see for yourself the expertise they possess. View the escribe here

Council even went a step beyond that. We decided to create an additional management board of directors to oversee the construction of the Green Line. This committee will be formally recognized in January 2021, and as you can see in the image below, the skills being sought for this management board is nothing less than extraordinary.  

If this additional management board of directors is not credible, then who is?

Minister McIver, I know that you value providing our city with a functional transit system, and I respect you for it, but with that said, public discourse spurned by inaccurate statements are a disservice to those who elected us.

I will continue to correct these statements, especially when it disregards all the hard work and mindful preparation that has gone into the Green Line.