The Green Line LRT megaproject in Calgary has finally received the green light.
On Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that construction will begin as soon as possible, reaffirming his government’s commitment of $1.53 billion.
“If you live in the south of the city, you know all too well that getting downtown can be a real problem,” Trudeau said. “So today I’ve got some good news to share.”
In addition to creating 20,000 “well-paying, middle-class jobs” during construction and 400 permanent jobs, the prime minister said stage 1 of the Green Line would help cut tens of thousands of tons of pollution every year.
“Some politicians continue to say that we have to choose between jobs and the environment,” Trudeau said. “But a healthy environment and a strong economy really do go hand-in-hand.”
Trudeau also thanked Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating, who has been working on seeing the Green Line to fruition for the past 11 years.
“Big shout out to you as well, Shane. Thank you for all your leadership on this.”
The prime minister also said he’s looking forward to working with the province and city on the unfunded portion of the Green Line planned to run north of 16 Avenue N.
Keating said he didn’t think he would be standing in Calgary Transit’s Oliver Bowen Maintenance Facility making a Green Line announcement before the next municipal election.
“I think the start and stop was the issue. We’ve started so many times. We’ve stopped so many times,” Keating said. “This is the actual start of the end.”
Just before the prime minister made that announcement, the provincial government issued a release saying it had approved the business case for the north-south LRT line and had submitted the business case to the federal level on June 24.
In a statement, Ric McIver, minister of transportation and of municipal affairs, said the province is happy to make the $1.53-billion investment in Calgary.
“I’m grateful for the hard work done by the technical experts at the province and the city to make the Green Line a functional project that connects to the rest of the LRT network,” McIver said.
The news from Edmonton came as a surprise to the mayor, Keating and other councillors.
“I was a bit surprised that that means this is probably my last announcement on the Green Line, because that is the piece of the puzzle for which we have been waiting,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.
“Being able to move forward in this way will allow us to continue with a lot of the early work that we have in place with some confidence and the stuff that is already funded.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi also credited the 14-1 decision made by councillors to create the Green Line.
“One of the great untold stories of this council was we elected in 2017, a council full of advocates for transit,” Nenshi said. “And that has not moved in one bit.”
A yearlong delay
Shortly after that vote in June 2020 approving the alignment of the first three phases of track from Shepperd through downtown to 16 Ave N, the province announced it would be conducting due diligence on Calgary’s largest infrastructure project ever.
“In my career in the private sector, that term due diligence means you’re about to make a deal and you’ve got to spend a couple of weeks looking at the numbers and make sure everything’s good to go,” Nenshi said.
In the end, the only change to the Green Line plan was to reduce three procurement contracts to two.
The fact that Wednesday’s announcement could have been a sod-turning on the project wasn’t lost on the mayor or Keating.
“We should have had a sod turning today and we don’t,” Keating told reporters. “We should have had a proponent announced for the construction today, and we don’t.”
Keating added that he expects construction to be delayed by 18 to 24 months, with inflation costs anywhere between $200 million and $800 million, depending on the rate of inflation.
Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who sits on the Green Line committee, said it’s unfortunate that the delays stemming from the provincial review have resulted in a lost construction season.
“What we’ve understood from the Green Line board is that the opportunity for shovels in the ground this year has been missed because there are still processes that need to be taken care of before that can happen,” Gondek told Global News. “So we’re still stalled out, which is incredibly unfortunate. But let’s leave history behind us and let’s get moving on this project already.”
‘Notably absent’ premier
Despite being a tripartite agreement, no provincial ministers were in attendance to give the Green Line a green light.
“It is unfortunate that Premier Jason Kenney is not here,” Keating said.
The premier’s absence was also noticed by members of the Opposition, with leader Rachel Notley saying he was “notably absent.”
“We heard clearly today that, under the leadership of Jason Kenney, the project was stalled and delayed by at least one year,” Notley said in a statement. “That’s one year longer to wait for the creation of 20,000 jobs and it’s one year longer to wait for the economic boost that this will provide to the downtown core and all Calgarians.”
Calgary-McCall MLA Irfan Sabir said the premier or one of his cabinet should have been in attendance.
“We do know that (the Green Line is) a critical project for Calgary. It’s a critical project for the environment. It’s a critical project for jobs and cutting commute times,” Sabir told Global News.
“It’s my hope that although the premier didn’t show up at the announcement, that they will collaborate with the city and other areas of government to make sure that there are no further delays to this project.”
Earlier in the day, Kenney and Trudeau met in Calgary. At a photo op before that meeting, Kenney said he had hoped to talk about how to get travel and tourism workers back to work.