There was a question posed on Twitter last night that I thought warranted a larger response than Twitter’s character limit would allow me. It’s also been a little while since I posted a Green Line blog, so it seems timely to respond to this question. The question: “Should we pull the pin on the Green Line for three years? Is this a project that is overreaching in our current economic crisis? Wouldn’t a thirty-six month pause feel right?”
This question came from someone I consider to be a mentor to me and was instrumental in helping me during my first term as a Councillor. I value his opinions, but we can certainly disagree on a number of areas. On this particular opinion, the Grasshopper needs to tell his teacher that he is misguided.
First off, putting a three-year hold on construction would result in approximately $300 million in escalation costs. Secondly, while building the Green Line will be a significant cost to the City, the project is receiving provincial and federal dollars that otherwise might not be invested in Calgary. The Green Line will create 12,000 construction jobs and 8,000 supporting jobs over 10 years that will help get people back to work. So to put it bluntly, no – it would not feel right to put a three-year pause on the Green Line. Furthermore, the Green Line is fully funded by three orders of government from funding sources earmarked for public transit – money that won’t simply be allocated to somewhere else within Calgary.
With that, let’s get into a few more details. When pushed by ‘LRT on the Green’ to explain what will be different in three years, they suggested that we will have pipelines, an improved tax base and lower unemployment. I absolutely hope we have solved Alberta’s pipeline woes in the next three years, but I don’t think we should wait for pipelines to be built to build the Green Line. Again, the line is fully funded. It will also put 20,000 people to work, helping with the unemployment issue. Additionally, aside from some preliminary work in the southeast that has begun, construction is still about a year away from starting and we don’t expect Stage 1 of the Green Line to be operational until 2026. Should we really be asking transit-starved areas of the city to wait an additional three years for service?
I mentioned that the Green Line is fully funded, so let’s dive into that. Two thirds of the funding is coming from the provincial and federal governments. That federal funding comes in part from a $3.3 billion bilateral agreement with Alberta to support public transit, green infrastructure, recreational, cultural and community infrastructure, and rural and northern communities. This is money that has been allocated for a specific area and not spending it doesn’t mean that it will be reallocated to another area. Similarly, the provincial government’s funding is coming from money allocated to green projects and would not be allocated to another area in the budget. There are different allocations of funding within government budgets and cutting one area won’t necessarily result in that money transferring to another budget area. In fact, it may result in that money getting allocated to other projects fitting that budget area in a different municipality. The City’s funding was initially established in 2013 and extended in 2015, making use of $52 million in tax room to fund the Green Line over the next 30 years. It was thanks to this plan, that did not result in a tax increase, that unlocked over $3 billion in provincial and federal funding.
Public transit is vital to a city’s success. In the short term, the Green Line means jobs. As I mentioned above, it will translate into 20,000 construction and supporting jobs over the next 10 years. That level of job creation at a time when the local economy is hurting should be welcomed. In the longer term, once the Green Line is operational, people will have an easier time getting to where they need to go. Residents along the Green Line will have an easy, cost effective way to get to downtown and residents across the city will be able to get to growing business centres within Ward 12 including Quarry Park, Douglas Glen, South Trail Crossing, and once we are able to get the Green Line there, Seton. We keep hearing about the economic crisis and public transit can save residents a lot of their hard earned money by reducing their expenditure on gas, car insurance, maintenance costs and more. For those that still choose to drive, the Green Line will mean less cars on the road and reduced traffic congestion.
We have also been talking a lot about what it takes to attract businesses to the City. Great public transit networks are a major factor that companies consider when deciding where to set up shop. Right now there are significant parts of the city that are underserved by transit. The Green Line will give more choice the workforce located in Ward 12, as well as the other southeast and north-central communities that it will serve. Businesses looking to set up shop in Calgary may consider locating along the Green Line, knowing that they will be able to attract talent from across the city thanks to the improved transit access the Green Line will bring. The Green Line is a project that will result in greater job creation in Calgary over the long term.
Here’s what I think “feels right”. The Green Line beginning construction as planned is what feels right. Getting it up and running as early as possible, being in service by 2026 is what feels right. Adding 20,000 jobs in the short term is what feels right. Servicing up to 65,000 Calgarians on opening day and reducing traffic congestion by upwards of 15% is what feels right. I can tell you that for the residents of southeast Calgary who have been waiting on an LRT since 1983, any further delay certainly does not feel right.
As always, please let me know what you think here.