Green Line LRT backers concerned province is delaying project
1st stage of $5.5B transit line is supposed to start construction next summer
Proponents of the Green Line LRT in Calgary say they're growing increasingly concerned the project will be delayed by provincial foot dragging.
On Oct. 9, 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.
A city councillor instrumental in the push for the project and an advocacy group dedicated to the Green Line now say those concerns have not been properly dealt with and deadlines are looming.
"I think what we're seeing is the province give lip service to the project, say that they have some concerns, but they're not coming to the table and making a good faith effort to resolve those concerns," said Jeff Binks with the group LRT on the Green.
Calgary city council approved the project on June 16, by a vote of 14-1.
Letter to the premier
Binks's organization was cc'd on a letter sent to Premier Jason Kenney by Coun. Shane Keating on Nov. 20, laying out the councillor's own anxieties about the lack of response from the province.
"Six weeks have passed since we received the Honourable Ric McIver's letter, and while there is a lot of discussion, there is very little action being taken," he wrote.
"Today, I am asking to see a list of the specific concerns, so that we may address them in a prompt and efficient manner, to the Alberta government's satisfaction."
Keating says in his letter that a report into the project was conducted for the province by Nick Hann and that he assumes the concerns listed by the minister come from that report.
The ministry confirmed his assumptions in a written response to questions from CBC News.
Keating says the Green Line team with the city has not been provided a copy of the report and says that makes it difficult to address any of the issues raised.
In an interview, Keating said he has checked with the Green Line team and he reiterated his point that discussions have taken place but nothing formal.
"We've had a number of discussions, but not one word has been sent on paper. How can you address concerns? How can you talk about the concerns when they've openly stated they won't get the report written by Mr. Hann?" he said.
"And they haven't even sent an email with one word in an email that talks about what the concerns are. So you can talk all day long, but if you're not willing to, you know, get to the brass tacks of the issue, then you're not going to ever solve anything."
In written responses to CBC News questions, sent by a transportation ministry spokesperson, the province said it has been in regular contact with the city regarding the concerns outlined in the report and Hann has conveyed his conclusions directly to the project team.
"The minister did not commit to send anything formal or in writing, and there is ongoing information sharing at regular meetings between the province and the project team," reads the email.
"The city has followed-up with the province for details in writing, and we are actively preparing a response. In the meantime, Alberta Transportation officials continue to engage in weekly meetings with the project team, as promised."
The province says its report was not released publicly because it was commercially sensitive and there was an active procurement process underway for the first stage of the project, but it might reconsider releasing it to the public "at a future date."
The province said it would not be held to an "arbitrary timeline at the expense of a functional transit project."
"We would not characterize due diligence on a spending commitment of $1.53 billion as a delay," said the ministry.
On Tuesday, Ric McIver tweeted that work on the Green Line will not be tied in any way to Calgary's municipal election, and that the project will move forward once the required due diligence is completed.
McIver reiterated that Alberta Transportation officials continue to meet twice weekly with the project team.
But Coun. Keating responded, saying the city is still awaiting clarification from the province in response to multiple inquiries into the details of the province's concerns.
Stage 1 scheduled for summer
Stage 1 of the Green Line is already in the request for proposal phase and work is being done so that construction can begin next summer.
"Unless the province starts to share some information and kind of provide some solutions to their concerns, or outline what their concerns actually are, we might start to see the brakes get hit on this project, and another year of delay, more costs, and just a year longer of waiting for Calgarians," said Binks.
"And so we're starting to get pretty concerned."
The city said "it was unable to accommodate an interview at this time," but sent a written statement attributed to general manager of the Green Line, Michael Thompson.
"This October, the province completed their review of the Green Line LRT project, reaffirming their support and commitment. Since that time, the city has established a joint working group with the province and we continue to work collaboratively to address the questions they raised as part of the review," reads a portion of the statement.
"While this will require some adjustments to our project schedule, the city remains committed to taking the time needed to work through this process with our joint funding partners."
The city did not respond to a request to clarify what adjustments, if any, could be made to the project.
Binks said the first stage of the project, from the Elbow River to Shepard, hasn't changed in decades, and if the provincial government raises concerns about it now, that raises questions about its motivation.
"This is a provincial government that has said that job creation and the economy are their top two priorities, and Green Line is the largest infrastructure project in Alberta's history," said Binks.
"So if I were the UCP, I would be moving heaven and earth to do whatever it takes to make sure that shovels go in the ground and 12,000 jobs are created this next summer. And they're just simply not doing it. And so we have to start to wonder why."
- A previous version of this article said Michael Thompson was the general manager of transportation. He is, in fact, general manager of the Green Line.Dec 08, 2020 10:16 AM MT
With files from Sarah Rieger