Several Calgary councillors have joined together to voice their concerns over the escalating cost of the Green Line LRT project, claiming taxpayers will be on the hook for more money than expected.
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 28 stations some 46 kilometres of track to the existing system.
However, in a Tuesday news release from Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison’s office, he said councillors learned last week that the $4.9-billion price tag doesn’t include interest on debt.
According to the release, a new report presented to Calgary’s Green Line committee last week estimated financing those costs will add an additional $639.9 million to the project, bringing the total cost to more than $5.5 billion.
As such, Davison has joined together with Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland and Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart to renew their call for building a lower-risk, higher-value option for the Green Line LRT.
“This is now the fourth major cost escalation, and we still haven’t built a single kilometre of track,” Sutherland said. “At a time when Calgary families and businesses are suffering, it would be reckless to move ahead with the current alignment. It’s time to recognize reality and change the plan.”
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, the alignment of Stage 1 of the project has come into question.
Councillors met last week to evaluate proposed changes to Stage 1 in order to bring the project’s cost estimates within budget and manage construction risk, voting to approve the latest administration-proposed alignment.
The vote was eight to five in favour, with some of those opposed saying it was because of the economic impact of COVID-19.
“This isn’t a $4.9-billion plan, it’s a $5.5-billion plan,” Colley-Urquhart said. “And we will need several billion more to build the remaining 26 kilometres north and south. On top of all of this, taxpayers will have to fund operating and maintenance costs.”
The councillors plan to voice their concerns at a June 15 city council meeting.
Mayor calls it ‘grasping at straws’
Mayor Naheed Nenshi responded to the claims of escalating costs on Tuesday afternoon, remembering a 2017 debate with the same councillors and how council voted to set aside funding for these costs.
“There’s nothing new about this and I’d be surprised if councillors made a $600-million decision without paying attention, given that those councillors were present for that debate,” he said.
Nenshi called the change of heart about the city’s financial portion of the project “grasping at straws.”
“It’s very clear that these members want to kill the Green Line. They want to. They’re going to talk about delay, they’re going to talk about more study. This has been exhaustively studied. I’m telling you right now if we don’t go over the bridge in the first round, the people of north-central Calgary will never get an LRT,” he said.
“I would just say to my colleagues, if you want to kill the Green Line and get back that $3 billion, just put a motion to kill it. Don’t try all this dancing.”
Nenshi said it is important to build the expensive parts first so the city can use its transit funding to keep building out either way.
“If you cut off the bridge now, you end up with a line that has the same operating costs, you’re not saving any money, lower ridership and you’ve given up the ability to ever go north, unless somehow money falls from the sky,” he said.
The mayor admitted there will be a lot of construction but said there is a plan.
“What these councillors are proposing is throw the plan out the window, say goodbye to the north and say someday we might win the lottery and we might go north,” he said.
“That’s not a plan.”