New plan for Calgary's Green Line LRT would build from southeast to downtown all at once

The board overseeing construction of Calgary's Green Line LRT says it will build the portion that runs from the southeast to downtown all at once rather than dividing it into segments. 

Earlier plan would have constructed from Shepard to Inglewood/Ramsay, then later to downtown

Conceptual drawing of an outdoor station along the Green Line LRT. (City of Calgary/Youtube)

The board overseeing construction of Calgary's Green Line LRT says it will build the portion that runs from the southeast to downtown all at once rather than dividing it into segments. 

"This will connect the southeast to downtown and into the existing Red and Blue lines within the first phase," said Wendy Tynan, manager of stakeholder relations for the Green Line. 

"If escalation costs and other risks do not materialise in phase one, the board will proceed with building from Eau Claire to 16th Avenue."

The previous plan called for the first phase to be divided into three segments with separate contracts for construction. The first segment would stretch from Shepard in the southeast to Inglewood/Ramsay. Construction on that phase was supposed to start this summer. 

The city argued dividing the contracts for each segment would save money and increase the number of companies able to submit bids — including local companies. 

However, provincial transportation Minister Ric McIver referred to the plan as a "train line to nowhere" because the connection to downtown was its own segment. 

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he didn't want to dwell on the past but rather focus on the fact the project is clearing another hurdle. 

"The city had thought that it would be better to break this up into smaller pieces in order to have more competition on each one of these projects and to enable smaller and local companies to be involved more in the procurement," he said on Wednesday.

"However, that did lead to a little bit of what we call 'completion risk,' just making sure that the various pieces work together."

The change comes after months of back and forth with the province, which said it had concerns with the way the procurement strategy for the project was structured and forced a pause on construction while it evaluated the city's  plan.

Increased costs

Coun. Shane Keating, a longtime champion of the project, says the only thing that has really changed in this announcement is that the costs are higher due to delays and the impact of the pandemic on supply chains. 

"I would say that the UCP effect has just increased the cost of the Green Line, which is what we were trying to avoid in the first place," he said of Wednesday's announcement. 

Keating says he estimates it will be a minimum of a year and a half or two years before construction can start. 

This map shows the revised alignment of Calgary's Green Line LRT, with proposed future extensions through north Calgary. (City of Calgary)

Don Fairbairn, chair of the Green Line board, could not say how much the new plan will delay the project. It is not known at this time when construction will begin, but the city has previously said it was delayed until at least 2022. 

Fairbairn said putting the whole segment into one phase will give more certainty around costs, which have increased by $100 million. 

"The board is committed to deliver this program within available funding and schedule," he said.

"So with one procurement from Shepard through to Eau Claire, we'll have a very strong level of cost certainty when those bids are received. And in this time of significant escalation, we think that's the prudent approach."

Provincial, then federal governments must approve

The new plan was submitted to the province on May 28 as part of a business plan for the federal government, which is funding the project alongside the province and the city. 

If the province supports that new business plan, it will then be sent to Ottawa. 

Jeff Binks, the president of LRT on the Green, which advocates for the project, says it's time to move forward. 

"I think what we have now is an opportunity for Premier Jason Kenney to sign, seal and deliver the Green Line for Calgarians," he said. 

"It's time for him to sign the business case that we know is now on his desk." 

Fairbairn said he was confident the province would approve the new plan, despite delays and controversies over the past few months. 

"We have an agreement with the province that this procurement is acceptable to them, and most importantly, it's acceptable to us," he said. 

In an emailed statement, McIver said the province had received the business plan and would "review it shortly."

The cost of the Green Line is estimated at $5.5. billion with funding split between the three levels of government. 

With files from Scott Dippel