Calgary

Pause the Green Line so it's not 'train to nowhere,' Evan Woolley tells city council

Coun. Evan Woolley is asking his council colleagues to put the brakes on the Green Line LRT project.

Ward 8 councillor files urgent notice of motion to halt new LRT project

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley says council should stop and reconsider the Green Line project before it proceeds any further. (CBC)

Coun. Evan Woolley is asking his council colleagues to put the brakes on the Green Line LRT project.

The Ward 8 councillor is tabling an urgent notice of motion to direct administration to pause work on the nearly $5-billion project and work with an independent third party to do a review of any possible alignment changes and escalating cost projections.

Last week, officials said plans for a four-kilometre tunnel from 16th Avenue North, beneath the Bow River and under the downtown core would have to be reconfigured.

Because of unforeseen technical challenges, the city's transportation general manager, Michael Thompson, said planners will resurrect a discarded idea to build a bridge across the Bow.

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

That would connect the Green Line from Crescent Heights to a tunnel under downtown.

The city is also considering breaking construction of the Green Line into three separate contracts, which would push the start of construction to 2021 and the opening of the line to 2027.

The three stretches would be the portion of the line that would tunnel under downtown, the stretch from Fourth Street to 126th Avenue S.E. and the work to relocate underground utilities downtown.

Woolley says going ahead with the stretch southeast from downtown before building the section through the core makes no sense.

"I worry the Green Line may be reduced from an investment in Calgary's global future to a project that is a burden to taxpayers, doesn't serve the downtown and is a train to nowhere," Woolley said.

"Our response should not be to break the project up into smaller and smaller pieces, to cost-engineer vital components out until all we have left is a train to nowhere. We must reassess the alignment, get fresh outside perspectives, review our assumptions and chart a smart and cost-efficient path forward."

The councillor is also unhappy with the planned station locations in Eau Claire and the Beltline.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says while there are some good points in Woolley's notice of motion, he thinks it's misguided overall.

"It assumes that that work has not already happened, and, in fact, we've had a large team of experts and some of the smartest people in the world actually answering those questions," he said.

"And remember, every day of delay on such a big project costs us money. And so we've got to ultimately make that balance on what inflation is doing to that project versus getting it exactly right."

Some high-profile leaders are also pushing for a major rethinking of the project.  

A group of businessmen addressed the transportation committee meeting last week to criticize the project, saying it would cost $7 billion — not $4.9 billion — and calling for a one-year pause to re-evaluate it. 

The Green Line is planned to ultimately stretch 46 kilometres across 28 stations from 160th Avenue North to Seton in southeast Calgary.

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