Green Line LRT: Calgary councillors discuss revised alignment of Stage 1

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Calgary committee meets to discuss Green Line LRT realignments
Calgary councillors will meet Monday to discuss the revised alignment of Stage 1 of the Green Line LRT. Doug Vaessen gets an update on the project from Ward 6 Councillor Jeff Davison. – Jun 1, 2020

Members of Calgary’s Green Line committee met Monday to discuss the long-awaited project and listen to public submissions regarding the recently revised alignment of the new LRT line.

Once finished, the $4.9-billion Green Line LRT expansion will run from 160 Avenue in north Calgary to Seton in the city’s southeast, adding some 46 kilometres of track to the existing system and 28 stations.

City council approved the full vision for the Green Line LRT project in June 2017, with construction on the first 20 kilometres slated to begin in 2021.

However, in late January, a special committee formed by Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison reworked the alignment of a section of the Green Line from Centre Street and 16 Avenue North south to the Elbow River in the Beltline in order to bring the project’s cost estimates within budget and manage construction risk.

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The updated alignment includes a street-level track on Centre Street North with a bridge over the Bow River and a 2.5-kilometre tunnel in the downtown core and Beltline. There would with six stations in total (two at ground level and four underground).

Now, city councillors have to approve the revised alignment.

“[It] really sets the core for the future Green Line,” the city’s general manager of transportation, Michael Thompson, said on Monday.

“It allows us to do extension to the north and the south — smaller dollar extensions in those few hundred million dollar ranges, similar to the way we built out the LRT network to date. Really, we started with a core, from downtown to Anderson, and then we built out in segments.”

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The Green Line is also a major part of the master plan for the redevelopment of Calgary’s Rivers District, Thompson said.

“We need more mobility options to get in and out of that area,” he said.

Despite that, there have been some concerns raised, specifically from the Calgary Stampede and the Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation, which the city is still working to iron out.

“We know that there are concerns across the entire alignment. Some people are in favour of the changes that we’ve made, some people aren’t,” Thompson said.

“That’s why our recommendation is to start Segment 1 [from Ramsay to Shepherd], get into construction and to continue to work with our stakeholders to finalize the design and the functional planning for Segment 2.”

Could further realignments be needed?

Speaking with Global News Morning Calgary on Monday, Davison questioned if further changes to the alignment of the Green Line LRT might be needed.

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“The challenge we have is that we live in very uncertain economic times,” Davison said. “The COVID-19 situation we’ve gotten into, the unexpected crash in oil (prices), has really changed our thinking about the downtown core.

Davison questioned if there is a way to be more flexible with the northern alignment.

“Rather than cross the river with a train, could we do that more cost-effectively and more successfully with a (bus rapid transit system)?

“I think we still need a bit more time to figure out how we’re going to land that train in the downtown core, and then effectively think about what are our options going forward north.”

In a blog post published on his website Monday, Davison posed a “one good line” scenario, which was also backed up by councillors Peter Demong, Jyoti Gondek and Ward Sutherland, echoes previous suggestions that a portion of the Green Line should be scrapped in favour of BRT service.

“Our ‘one good line’ plan involves building the planned and cost-effective Green Line south to Shepard. This would connect Calgarians in the southeast to downtown, the Beltline, and the entertainment district,” the blog read.

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“At the same time, we support a focused effort to address the needs of north-central Calgarians who have not seen meaningful transit improvements in decades. By investing in a dedicated BRT network along Centre Street north, we can resolve issues of overcapacity and access along the heaviest used portion of the proposed Green Line.”

When asked about the state of the Green Line project at a news conference on Monday, Premier Jason Kenney said he was “frustrated with the shrinking LRT.”

While a federal cabinet minister, and working to further the needs of southern Alberta on the national level, in 2015 Kenney committed $1.5 billion to the Green Line project.

“It was supposed to be I think, 45 kilometres long — going from the far north of the city to the far southeast,” Kenney said, referencing the original expansion plan.

“And I think it was supposed to establish about 25 LRT stops that would have served hundreds of thousands of people and in the ensuing years. It got cut in half and at the same cost, and I found this very frustrating.”

Kenney was critical of the fact that the city’s focus has shifted to expansion in the downtown, instead of areas that have a greater need for mass transit.

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“This has always been a concern, a concern we’ve raised with the city — if they are looking at any changes to the routine or the the community served, we’d be happy to have a conversation with the city about that, to see how we can get more bang for the taxpayers’ buck, how we can get more Calgarians served by the Green Line?”

When it comes to the possibility of committing more money to the LRT project, Kenney said the UCP government listens to cities in terms of what their priorities are, but said “we have a lot of questions yet to be answered before we would commit to any additional Green Line funding at this point.”

Just after 5:30 p.m. Monday, the committee voted to keep hearing public submissions on the project until 9:30 p.m. Monday evening, with plans to return in-camera to discuss finances at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

A final vote on the revised alignment of the Green Line LRT is expected by June 15.

— With files from Global News’ Adam Toy

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