City council approves the Green Line as focus turns to funding

City council voted 12-3 on the final alignment and station locations for the Green Line, Calgary's next LRT project. Although the city is hoping to lineup $4.65 billion to build the first stage of the line, council has approved the entire 46 kilometre plan.

Green Line alignment, stations approved but full build-out could be far in the future

City council has voted 12-3 on the final alignment and station locations for the Green Line, Calgary's next LRT project. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

They've got a plan, now city council needs to convince the provincial government to give it some big cash to build it.

City council voted 12-3 on the final alignment and station locations for the Green Line, Calgary's next LRT project.

Although the city is hoping to secure $4.65 billion to build just the first stage of the line, council approved the entire 46-kilometre route that will eventually stretch from 160th Avenue North to Seton in the city's deep southeast.

The province said it wanted to see finalized plans before it would consider matching existing city and federal contributions to the project.

A long-time advocate of the Green Line, Coun. Shane Keating, said council was sending a clear message to the federal and provincial governments in approving the ultimate plan for the mega-project.

"We sent a message that council is fully committed to a vision that will shape Calgary's future," said Keating. "It offers an invitation to all our partners to be a part of something exciting, something that will set Calgary apart as a world-class city."

Besides establishing exactly where the Green Line's low-floor train cars will run, the council vote also determined where they'll stop.

This is 2016 planned route of the Green Line, indicated by the green line on this map. City council has recently cut down on the number of stations. (City of Calgary)

Two stations have been dropped from the final plan — 9th Avenue North and 72nd Avenue North.

It was determined those stations were too close to neighbouring stations, which means at full build-out there will be 28 stations.

Council decision not unanimous

Three councillors voted against the final proposal — Andre Chabot, Joe Magliocca and Ward Sutherland.

During the debate, Magliocca raised concerns about the initial stage only reaching 16th Avenue North while heading all the way to the Shepard Station in the southeast, the location of a light rail car storage and maintenance facility.

Magliocca said administration is estimating that only 11,000 people a day will use the LRT from 16th Avenue heading south. He'd rather see the line be extended further north to reach a larger population of potential C-Train users.

"I don't understand their vision, where they're coming from. But I'd like to see it go up to North Pointe, to be quite frank with you, where all the new subdivisions are growing rapidly, from Glacier Ridge right to Carrington, all the way up in that area," said Magliocca.

A rendering of what the underground station at Centre Street and Ninth Avenue North would look like with a tunnel for the route of the new Green Line of the LRT system. (City of Calgary/Screenshot)

Mac Logan, the city's general manager of transportation, said the Stage 1 plan gets the hard part of completing the expensive underground section through the downtown done.

He said that means it will be more manageable to build extensions north and south in the future, when more money becomes available.

"If we do not do the tough bit in the middle, the tunneling, on Day 1, it'll be extremely difficult to start that tunneling section back up later on," said Logan.

"You can't just park a tunneling machine at the end of the tunnel and fire it up 10 years later. It doesn't work that way."

For the city's first LRT leg from downtown to Anderson station, the plan included a future tunnel under 8th Avenue for the trains. That tunnel has yet to be built, but several years ago it was estimated to cost $800 million.

Attention turns to funding

Monday's vote officially marks the end of the planning stage for the Green Line.

While full funding for the first stage of the line has yet to be completed, the focus now shifts to preparation for the procurement and construction phase.

The city's chief financial officer, Eric Sawyer, told council that the city can borrow the necessary money for the Green Line and remain within its debt limits.

"One of our guiding principles is not to take on debt unless we have a funding source to cover that debt," Sawyer said.

City council had previously voted to set aside $52 million a year for 30 years to cover its share of the costs for the Green Line.

The federal government has pledged $1.15 billion for its share. 

The current plan is for construction to start in 2019 or 2020 with full build-out of the first phase to be ready for the trains to roll in 2026.

The city has said that should Calgary choose to bid for the 2026 winter Olympics and be named the host city, the Green Line's initial phase could be ready in time for the Olympics.