Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said Jeff Davison was the vice-chair of the Green Line Committee. Jyoti Gondek was recently elected vice-chair of that committee and currently holds the position. Global News regrets this error.
The City of Calgary has stopped acquiring proposals from contractors to build part of the first phase of the Green Line LRT project.
According to an email sent to community stakeholders and obtained by Global News, the city has decided to “pause the segment 1 procurement schedule to provide time to conclude the work with the province.”
Sources close to the situation confirmed to Global News that the process to find builders is expected to be delayed three months, as concerns continue to mount over the province’s commitment to the project.
“We do not believe it is responsible to continue with the current procurement while discussions with the province are evolving,” the email from the city’s Green Line team said.
The city released its Stage 1 requests for proposal (RFP) on July 24, resulting in a shortlist of companies that would be qualified to build the first phase of the project from Shepard to Ramsay in the city’s southeast.
The provincial government completed its review of the $5.5 billion project in October.
The review, which began in June, covered the alignment and cost estimates of the project.
In a letter sent to Mayor Naheed Nenshi in October, Transportation Minister Ric McIver said 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.”
Construction of the first phase was supposed to begin in 2021, but there is concern from some members of council and proponents of the project that the construction timeline may now be in question.
“Any pause or delay, in my view, is solely on the shoulders of the provincial government,” Green Line committee chair Shane Keating said Wednesday. “Any delay in segment 1 is going to jeopardize shovels in the ground in 2021.”
Even with the latest delay, the mayor said it’s possible to have the project break ground next year.
“But it is going to be very tight,” Nenshi said.
“I certainly hope that the Government of Alberta does not use this as an excuse to further delay the project. We can still get going in ’21, but it’s going to be much tighter now.”
Calgary city council voted 14-1 in June to move forward with the first leg of the LRT project, which sparked the review from the province.
“Which is fine and dandy, check it out and let’s move forward,” Keating said. “It took four months for that review to be completed and then it took two months for the Green Line (team) and the provincial government to really start talking in earnest; so, there’s a six-month delay.”
Nenshi said the city has not seen the report or the review the province has done.
“We have no idea what it is they actually want,” the mayor said Thursday morning. “And this is 12,000 jobs at a time when they are desperately needed.
“The Government of Canada is on board with a multi-billion dollar commitment. The City of Calgary — very rare for a LRT project — is on board with 40 per cent of the costs that we’re self funding and the province needs to get on with it.”
Members of the city’s Green Line team confirmed to Global News that the cost to delay Phase 1 is approximately $1.5 million per month.
‘A train line to nowhere’
Ministry spokesperson McKenzie Kibler said the city has yet to present a “credible” plan to connect the first stage of the Green Line to downtown Calgary.
“All the City of Calgary has presented is a plan for a train line to nowhere,” Kibler wrote in an email to Global News.
McIver’s press secretary also said the decision to not make the report public was due to the “commercially-sensitive” nature of the report and the fact there was active procurement for Phase 1.
“The City of Calgary is fully aware of the concerns and risks outlined – general and specific — and we’re working on an ongoing basis to fix them.”
Despite the concerns from the province, McIver said at the time that the province would maintain its commitment to fund $1.53 billion of the transit project; a commitment the minister’s office reiterated in a statement to Global News late Wednesday.
“Alberta’s government remains committed to the $1.53 billion it has pledged for the Green Line,” Kibler said. “However, we would not characterize due diligence on a spending commitment of $1.53 billion as a delay and we will not be held to an arbitrary timeline at the expense of a functional transit project or hardworking Alberta taxpayers.
Keating said that even if the province has concerns with the later phases of the project, which includes a tunnel through the downtown core and a bridge crossing the Bow River, the project’s first phase, which is entirely at-grade should still go ahead.
“You would think that could at least say ‘let’s move forward with segment one, let’s work on two and three to make sure (they’re) good,” Keating said. “We may have to see changes, but let’s work on that and move forward with (segment 1.)”
Proponents of the LRT project spoke out last week and raised concerns that the province was delaying the process by not providing the fine details of the review, including the written report on the province’s findings.
Several sources speaking on the condition of anonymity told Global News that McIver had expressed to city officials his desire to delay the project until after the municipal election in October. McIver has since vehemently denied those claims.
LRT on the Green, the project’s largest supporter throughout its development, said the news of its delay was disappointing especially before the holidays.
“We heard very strongly from Minister McIver that he was behind this project 100 per cent, that they wanted the review done in a quick and expeditious way, and we heard the exact same thing from the City of Calgary team,” LRT on the Green president Jeff Binks said. “So now what we have is an opportunity for them to put their money with their mouth is and show through their actions that their words were genuine.”
Earlier this week, Nenshi said there had been “a couple what I call ‘come to Jesus’ meetings on Friday about some of the challenges that are there.”
Calgary’s mayor said he would be satisfied when he sees the report on the province’s concerns in its entirety.
Green Line committee member Jeff Davison remains confident the project will start on time, but said it’s important that all partners involved with the project are comfortable moving forward with what is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history.
“I’m not overly concerned with the timeframes that are in front of us right now, I think we’re working through a number of finalization issues in terms of what the plan looks like and what we’re prepared to do together; I think that’s health on a project of this size,” Davison said. “We really have to be mindful that while some of council feel we should move forward faster than others, I think it’s really incumbent upon us to ensure our administration is working with the partners’ administration, and they’re going to deliver those timeframes and tell us what’s the best possible advice.”
Davison’s sentiments were echoed in the email sent to stakeholders on Wednesday, which said “it is not uncommon for large infrastructure projects, such as the Green Line LRT, to continue to be evaluated and adjusted if needed.”
The first three phases of the project would see the line run from Sheperd to 16 Ave N. However, the project in its entirety would see the LRT line extended from 160 Avenue N to Seton, but those additional sections have not yet been funded. The city has already procured $500 million worth of land for the project.
According to city officials, the project is expected to inject nearly $5 billion into the provincial economy and create 20,000 jobs.
“Continued foot-dragging by the UCP government is threatening the Green Line and the jobs that come with it,” NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci said in a statement. “If this project dies, that’s on them. And then the UCP can explain to Calgarians why they killed 20,000 jobs at a time when our city is facing one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.”
On Thursday, the Alberta NDP released an open letter calling on the UCP government to “immediately release the full funding and to get this project built.”
— With files from Global News’ Adam Toy
Green Line Letter Dec 17th