Calgary

Green Line future at risk after 86% cut in provincial funding over next 4 years

Members of Calgary's new Green Line committee have a monumental task ahead — figure out how to move forward after the province offered up just 14 per cent of the project's expected funding for the next four years.

Province says remainder of money will come later, but mayor says he's been burned before

Calgary council will be discussing how to proceed with the Green Line, now that the transit project's provincial funding has been significantly reduced over the next four years. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Members of Calgary's new Green Line committee have a monumental task ahead — figure out how to move forward after the province offered up just 14 per cent of the project's expected funding for the next four years.

On Monday, seven council members were named to the committee which will host its first meeting next month.

Committee chair Coun. Shane Keating, a long-time supporter of the $4.9-billion project, says the city was expecting some changes to the promised $555 million in provincial funding over the next four years.

$75 million for the next four years is essentially worthless for a project of this size.- Coun. Shane Keating

But in last week's provincial budget, council learned that number had been slashed to $75 million — an 86 per cent funding decrease, with Premier Jason Kenney's UCP government saying the rest of the money will come in future years. 

"$75 million for the next four years is essentially worthless for a project of this size," Keating said. "Unless things change, then I have great difficulty seeing this project move forward."

Planning on the Green Line began in 2012, but planning issues and contract changes pushed the anticipated completion date back to 2027.

Construction on the southeast leg from Shepard Station to Victoria Park has already been delayed until 2021, as planners review the plan for the stretch from 16th Avenue North through downtown, to the Beltline and Ramsay. 

If completed, the full 46-kilometre Green Line track will have 28 stations and almost a quarter-million Calgarians are expected to use it daily. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's heard talk of cancelling the project. He said that talk seems premature but said it will almost definitely be delayed even further.

"The city's been burned before on the West LRT, on other projects, where we start construction and then the province pushes out the payment, and we end up paying a lot of money to the bank," he said.

"I gotta foreshadow that I'm skeptical that we'll be able to do it without taking on too much debt, too much risk to the original timeframe."

Former premier Rachel Notley had pledged a total of $1.53 billion toward the project in a signed agreement, matching amounts committed by the federal government and the city. The federal funding is contingent on matching the other two level of governments' funds.

The city solicitor told council there are legal implications to that signed agreement, but they'll stay secret for now, as council discussed them during a closed-door session.

Old CTrain car replacements in jeopardy, too

The uncertainty around the Green Line isn't the only hit to Calgary Transit in the provincial budget. 

The Alberta Community Transportation fund has been cut, which would have allowed the city to replace its aging fleet of U2 cars, many of which were purchased it the '80s.

The former NDP government had promised the city's long-term transit plan would have been funded at $200 million per year after 2027 — that's now reduced to $0.

Alberta has committed to continue to fund the city's low-income transit pass, but the city itself is struggling with how to close a funding gap on that program, as it deals with across the board cuts.

With files from Scott Dippel

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