Green Line LRT construction delayed until at least 2022

The City of Calgary has announced construction on the Green Line LRT project will be delayed until at least next year.

Calgary city council says postponement due to provincial funding agreement

An artist's rendering of a ground-level station on the new Green Line LRT. City officials have confirmed that construction on the first portion of the Green Line will not start this year. (City of Calgary)

The City of Calgary has announced construction on the Green Line LRT project will be delayed until at least 2022.

The first stage of the light-rail transit line was supposed to start construction this summer on the southeast section — from the Elbow River near Inglewood to Shepard station — as well as create thousands of jobs.

The project is the largest in Calgary's history, with a potential price tag of $5.5 billion; however, it has now been delayed due to a dispute over a provincial funding agreement.

The province has raised technical concerns about what city council wants to build, which includes a downtown tunnel. But after months of discussions, city officials say talks have resulted in no changes to the plans.

Despite the construction delay, the head of the Green Line project, Michael Thompson, said work will begin in August on a major relocation of underground utilities downtown in preparation for the Green Line — costing $138 million.

Council reacts

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it's been a frustrating exercise.

"Frankly, I have confidence in my people and I have confidence in what the City of Calgary's analysis has been. I'm always happy to have it stress tested. I'm always happy to have folks ask questions, but this cannot go on forever," he said Wednesday at a council meeting.

As of the end of March, all three levels of government have spent $620 million for staff and planning, enabling works and land acquisition.

Coun. Shane Keating, who chairs council's Green Line committee, calls no construction this year "a failure of the project," and that the province's tactics are not helping.

"What it's ended up doing is putting us even further behind than we are already. We will not see anything in the ground in '21 and I have no idea depending on where we go and what the process is for the next procedures of (Request For Proposals) whether we'll see anything in '22."

He adds that the city team has brought forward a credible plan and put it forward in the best method to proceed.

"Breaking into three stages allowed us to get from the deep south all the way to the core and even a little bit beyond to the river, and then the third stage you're going over the river," he said. 

"In many ways, I still firmly believe that the contract or the plan will be 98 per cent exactly the same once the agreement is signed."

NDP Municipal Affairs critic Joe Ceci also responded to the news.

"The Green Line is critical to revitalizing our downtown and getting Calgarians back to work. This unnecessary delay is a complete failure by Jason Kenney and the UCP that puts 20,000 jobs at risk at a time when Calgarians need them the most," he said in a news release.

Background on Green Line concerns

Since October, the city has been working with the province in order to deal with concerns raised in a consultant's report.

In December, the city said it was pausing the procurement process for the first phase of the project.

"We do not believe it is responsible to continue with the current procurement while discussions with the province are evolving," it said at the time. 

On Oct. 9, Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver wrote a letter reaffirming his government's $1.5-billion commitment to the project, but said a review had turned up concerns. 

He listed costs and the current design, contingencies, governance structure and the "overall procurement strategy" as issues. 

Those concerns were based on a report written by Nick Hann for the province, but that report has not been shared with the city, and council had to pass a motion in December to formally request it. 

The province has said it is a "train line to nowhere" because the project has been broken up into phases with the details of the downtown portion still to be finalized — an accusation Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Coun. Shane Keating both strongly rejected.

The city created a board to oversee construction of the project, with members from the public announced this January.

A statement emailed by a spokesperson and attributed to McIver said he welcomed the board.

"As stated in my December 14 letter, we were aware of the board appointments and worked with the city's search firm without delay," it reads. 

"I welcome the opportunity to work with the newly appointed Green Line board members to get a functional transit project built for Calgarians."

A spokesperson for the project said delaying construction of the first segment is estimated to cost $1.5 million per month.

With files from Scott Dippel and Drew Anderson