Calgary

Some city councillors want to halt planning on Green Line due to COVID-19

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, some members of city council want to halt all planning on the Green Line LRT project.

Majority of councillors say Green Line more important than ever for city's economy

During this week's city council meeting, some councillors questioned why the work is continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic. (City of Calgary)

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, some members of city council want to halt all planning on the Green Line LRT project.

During this week's city council meeting, Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart questioned why the work is continuing at this time.

"What would be the impacts of halting this project until we have more certainty with what is going on?" asked Colley-Urquhart.

Her colleague, Coun. Jeromy Farkas, echoed the sentiment.

"Can we afford this? And when we may be looking at what might be the most severe financial crisis in a generation, I am not sure that forging ahead in such a quick fashion is the way to go on this one," said Farkas.

However the concerns have prompted some pushback from others on council.

'Surprises the heck out of me'

A long-time proponent of the Green Line, Coun. Shane Keating was caught off-guard by the wishes of some to turn back.

"The halting aspect surprises the heck out of me considering where we are at in this economy and what the governments are planning to do," said Keating.

"They would like to infuse billions of dollars by the sounds of it into the economy to make sure this COVID-19 pandemic doesn't hit us even harder so here's an opportunity that's almost ready to go to market."

Coun. Ward Sutherland agrees that now isn't the time to hit the panic button on the Green Line.

"People need jobs," he said. "Our job is to create jobs when this crisis is over. If we shut down absolutely everything and do nothing, that is actually the opposite of the right thing to do."

The city projects the Green Line will create 20,000 construction jobs over six years.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city already has federal and provincial funding agreements in place for the first stage of the Green Line. 

With the economic damage that's being caused by COVID-19 and the massive drop in oil prices this month, Nenshi said more money may become available.

"We're going to have to take very, very aggressive stimulative actions and I think the federal and provincial governments have agreed with that philosophy to bring the economy back on its feet," said Nenshi. 

"And this is the largest job creation project we've got."

Big decision coming soon

The Green Line is reaching a critical stage.

The city wants to revise the way the city's next LRT line gets through the Beltline and the downtown. The changes are required to keep the project on budget.

Instead of a four kilometre long tunnel, the city wants to cut that back to a 2.4 kilometre underground route and have the train cross the Bow River via a new bridge. The CTrain would also run along the surface of Centre Street North up to 16 Avenue.

The proposed revisions are currently out for public engagement, but due to COVID-19 there will be no more open houses and only online engagement.

Council is supposed to vote on a revised route in late April although Nenshi said this week that may have to be delayed due to the pandemic.

The city is planning to put out calls for potential builders in July.

The plan currently calls for construction to start in the spring of 2021 on the 16 kilometre long stretch from Victoria Park to Shepard station in the southeast.

Work on the downtown portion of the line would start a year later.

The city has already spent more than $500 million on acquiring land for the project, clearing away utilities and remediating an old landfill in preparation for construction of the LRT line.

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