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Calgary’s Green Line LRT talks derailed until municipal election: sources

An artist's rendition of a Green Line LRT station in Calgary. Courtesy: City of Calgary

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from the Ministry of Transportation since its initial publication.

Calgary’s Green Line LRT is at risk of being delayed by another year.

Multiple sources told Global News that Transportation Minister Ric McIver has expressed to city officials his desire to delay the requests for proposal (RFP) process on stage 1 until after the municipal election and into 2022.

In response to an inquiry from Global News, McKenzie Kibler, McIver’s press secretary, said he disagrees with that “characterization of the minister’s views toward the project.”

Read more: Green Line LRT review has ‘a number of concerns’: province

“Minister McIver has never said – to anyone or to any effect – that he would wait until the municipal election before the project begins construction,” Kibler said in an updated statement. “The minister flatly denies this claim.”

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But a number of people at the City of Calgary confirmed to Global News anonymously that the minister told them he wanted to wait for the election before the project begins construction.

The city released its stage 1 requests for proposal (RFP) on July 24, resulting in a shortlist of Graham-PCL Transportation Partners, CityLink Partners and urbanTRANSIT. Construction of the first phase was to begin in 2021.

On Oct. 9, McIver sent a letter to Mayor Naheed Nenshi and council with results of the review of the Green Line alignment and estimated costs that began on June 16.

The letter Transport Minister Ric McIver sent to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on Oct. 9. Ric McIver / Twitter

The review “outlined a number of concerns related to risk and certainty with the project as it is currently designed, including estimated costs, contingencies, governance structure, and the overall procurement strategy,” the transportation minister’s letter said.

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McIver also asked the city to work with the province to review all of the details; that work has been completed according to Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating.

Read more: Province to review Calgary’s newly-approved realignment for Green Line LRT

“Since that letter has come in, yes, there’s been a lot of discussion on a weekly basis,” Keating told Global News. “But every time the Green Line team says, ‘OK, show us some data, something to say we’re off on our cost estimates of procurement or any of these (concerns),’ they get zero in return.”

Keating, also the chair of the city’s Green Line committee, said the province’s refusal to provide constructive feedback on where to revise things like cost estimates or procurement strategy has continued to delay getting shovels in the ground on the province’s largest infrastructure project.

“And the response I get is, ‘Well, let’s look forward, not backward,’ and that’s the end of the discussion,” Keating said.

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According to advocacy group LRT on the Green, they are also questioning why the province isn’t working faster.

In a press release, LRT on the Green president Jeff Binks said “we are left to wonder why the provincial government isn’t working day and night with the City of Calgary to find solutions to outstanding concerns so that shovels can go in the ground as scheduled next summer,” given the 20,000 jobs and $4.9 billion stage 1 of the Green Line represents.

Click to play video 'Calgary city council approves Green Line LRT' Calgary city council approves Green Line LRT
Calgary city council approves Green Line LRT – Jun 17, 2020

Six weeks after the letter from Minister McIver, Keating wrote to Premier Jason Kenney, saying “while there is a lot of discussion, there is very little action being taken.

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“Today, I am asking to see a list of the specific concerns, so that we may address them in a prompt and efficient manner, to the Alberta Government’s satisfaction.”

Keating outlined the steps the city has taken to build knowledgeable and experienced teams beyond city administration to support multiple aspects of the Green Line megaproject, including risk assessment, governance, project management and construction.

Keating also identified Nick Hann as the external consultant the Alberta government hired to review the Green Line project.

Read more: Majority of Calgarians support ‘alternative plan’ for transit expansion over Green Line: poll

Kibler confirmed “the province’s external consultant outlined the contents of his report to the project team directly,” but Keating said the full report has not been shared with the city.

Phase 1, an above-ground, 20-kilometre stretch of track running from Ramsay/Inglewood south to Shepard mirrors the way LRT has been constructed in the city for decades. It’s in phase 2 that the Green Line is proposed to go underground, through the Beltline and downtown, emerging in Eau Claire to cross the Bow River via a bridge.

Read more: Green Line LRT: Calgary councillors approve alternative Stage 1 route

“There’s no reason for that phase to be held up in any way, shape or form,” Keating said. “If the provincial government wants to look at phase 2 and phase 3 and maybe break phase 2 into a couple of sections, have it. That’s fine.”

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Any changes to the first phase would necessitate new RFPs be issued, a months-long process that could result in a 1.5-year delay in breaking ground on the transit project.

But time isn’t the only cost to delaying or reissuing RFPs.

Click to play video 'Examining the risks of the Green Line LRT project' Examining the risks of the Green Line LRT project
Examining the risks of the Green Line LRT project – Jun 16, 2020

“When you delay a project like this in any way, first there’s escalating costs, then there’s the loss of bidders,” Keating said. “Some of those companies are local companies who would love to see construction to start as soon as possible so they can actually get some economic stimulus back.”

“Whatever the reasons for the delays so far, we’re calling on Minister McIver to clear the tracks to allow construction to begin by next summer so tens of thousands of Albertans can be hired to build this project and billions of dollars can begin flowing into our economy,” Binks said.

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Read more: Calgary Transit service levels and public health a ‘balance’ during second wave: Davison

On Wednesday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city is in need of the jobs that constructing the Green Line would create.

“In the past, the province told us they were going to do a quick analysis to make sure they were comfortable with the procurement,” Nenshi said. “I believe the federal government, the third partner in this, is comfortable with the procurement.

“That quick, short analysis is onto its sixth or seventh month and I sure hope that the government of Alberta isn’t ragging the puck on this. I sure hope that they’re not trying to delay this project because we need those jobs and we need that investment.”

The Official Opposition said the Alberta government is “playing politics and failing Calgarians.”

“Now the UCP are trying to delay the project in the hopes of getting a new city council that will stop the Green Line despite polling showing Calgarians continue to overwhelmingly support the project,” Joe Ceci, Alberta NDP critic for municipal affairs, said in a statement.

“At a time when Calgarians desperately need jobs, the UCP are needlessly delaying a project that will create 20,000 jobs and support our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Read more: Alberta auditor flags $1.6B in government accounting blunders, oversight problems

The UCP and Minister McIver have expressed support for expanding the city’s LRT system.

“I have advocated for LRT expansion since I first ran for city council in 1998 and remain in support of the goals of LRT,” McIver wrote in October.

At the time, McIver said the province “maintains its capital budget allocation of $1.53 billion to the Green Line LRT project.”

Click to play video 'Majority of Calgarians in favour of ‘alternative plan’ for Green Line LRT: poll' Majority of Calgarians in favour of ‘alternative plan’ for Green Line LRT: poll
Majority of Calgarians in favour of ‘alternative plan’ for Green Line LRT: poll – Jun 11, 2020

Tuesday, Kibler said the Green Line will move forward after the city and province “complete the required due diligence.”

“We will not be held to an arbitrary timeline at the expense of a functional transit project,” he concluded.

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Cllr. Keating Letter to Pre… by Adam Toy