'Train line to nowhere': Calgary and provincial government escalate war of words over Green Line LRT

The disagreement between city council and the provincial government over the Green Line LRT project is escalating with the chair of the project committee saying the province is making false statements.

Province says city lacks 'any credible plan' for linking downtown with southeast segment

An artist's rendering of a station on Calgary's proposed Green Line LRT route. The chair of council's Green Line committee, Coun. Shane Keating, says the province is making false statements about the project. (City of Calgary)

The disagreement between city council and the provincial government over the Green Line LRT project is escalating with the chair of the project committee saying the province is making false statements.

In a statement on Thursday, Alberta Transportation said that the city has yet to put forward "any credible plan" for connecting the initial southeast portion of the $5.5-billion dollar CTrain line with the downtown segment, which is to be built later.

"Well, that's an absolutely false statement. And in my mind, that's a desperate attempt to bring back some credibility, which they obviously have none by that statement," said Coun. Shane Keating, who chairs council's Green Line committee.

"The credible plan has been there — always." 

The councillor noted that seven international consultants have assessed and endorsed Calgary's plan. 

'Train line to nowhere'

But in an email to CBC News, McKenzie Kibler, press secretary for Transportation Minister Ric McIver, said the Green Line's current configuration has issues with cost estimates, contingencies "and procurement strategy related to procuring segment one separately from the downtown segments."

"All the City of Calgary has presented is a plan for a train line to nowhere. We will continue to work with the city to conduct due diligence, to ensure that this integral project is able to deliver a functional transit system for Calgarians," he added.

Keating says he's worried construction won't happen in 2021 as planned because of the escalating war of words.

"As it stands now, it's just bantering back and forth and the project is getting deeper and deeper into chaos, you might say," he said.

Speaking later in the day, Mayor Naheed Nenshi took issue with the provincial response, and took a swipe at the transportation minister — his one-time rival for mayor.

"We have hired the best consultants in the world, we have thousands of pages of technical and economic information, we absolutely have a credible plan," he said. 

"If I were being very political, I would say that the plan they're arguing against is the plan that someone called Ric McIver put forward in 2010 when he was running for mayor, but I don't want to be that political."

Nenshi said due diligence means sitting down and sharing your data.

"It doesn't mean you meet every two weeks, ask the same questions get the same answers, lather, rinse and repeat two weeks later," he said. 

"What is happening is ragging the puck on the part of the province."

Keating says officials with the city and the province are planning to meet early in the new year to see if the problems can be ironed out. 

Pause on procurement

On Wednesday, the city paused procurement on the first stage of the Green Line because of the provincial concerns about the plan. 

The mayor says delaying construction boosts the cost of the mega-project, which is expected to create 20,000 jobs.

Delaying construction of the first segment is estimated to cost  $1.5 million per month, says a spokesperson for the project.

This map shows the approved alignment for the Green Line. (City of Calgary)

As of the end of November, the city has spent $600 million for land, engineering and design, enabling works and construction.

Last June, council approved a revised alignment, scrapping plans for a deep, four-kilometre tunnel through the core. Instead, there is to be a two-kilometre tunnel under Second Street southwest and a bridge to get the train over the Bow River.

The province has pledged $1.53 billion for its share of the project, but had previously announced a delay in releasing that full amount. The first instalment of provincial cash for capital spending on the project — $25 million — is scheduled for 2021, according to the latest budget.

With files from Scott Dippel and Drew Anderson.