Portland transit lends advice to Calgary on future Green Line project

Druh Farrell, Jim Stevenson and Shane Keating will travel to Vancouver, Seattle and Portland this week to figure out the best course of action for Calgary's upcoming public transit project.

City councillors traveling to other cities this week to research light rail networks

Calgary city councillors and staffers are touring transportation systems in other cities this week, including Portland's MAX light rail. (TriMet)

A group of Calgary city councillors and staffers is touring light rail networks in several west coast cities this week to help them make some critical decision on the future of the upcoming Green Line project.

After the delegation visits Vancouver and Seattle, the director of Portland's MAX light rail system will show the group — which includes councillors Druh Farrell, Jim Stevenson and Shane Keating — around Portland's public transportation system.

"The system that you have in downtown is high ramps that get you into your light-rail vehicles, ours are all down at the curb level," said Dave Unsworth.

He says Portland's low-rail light rail network offers universal accessibility for wheelchairs, the elderly and people pushing baby strollers.

"It also helps the transit to fit into the downtown fabric. From an urban design standpoint, from how you view things ... there's not as much as a blockage. I think it actually helps retail on the retail streets that are adjacent and on our light rail [network]," he said.

The Green Line will run from Calgary's northern outskirts, down Centre Street, through downtown and into the deep southeast to the South Health Campus.

Council has not yet voted on whether the tracks through Calgary's core will be raised, underground or at street-level — like Portland's MAX. 

"In the downtown and for the north segment of the line, there's still some work we have do on our end from how we're going to get from point A to point B," said city transportation spokesperson, Julie Yepishina-Geller.

"This decision needs a lot of study as we have no experience with low-floor trains," Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell told CBC News. 

"We have to engage with Chinatown, Crescent Heights and Eau Claire about the options and that starts in the fall," she said. "There is no need to rush to [a] decision. It is still underfunded."

Project not fully funded

In July, the federal government pledged $1.53 billion in funding for the Green Line transit project, which will nearly double the size of Calgary's current C-Train network.

The federal government is putting $1.5 billion into the city's Green Line. (City of Calgary)

The overall cost of the mega-project has been pegged at about $4.5 billion. In 2013, council voted to use $52 million in yearly tax surpluses from 2015 to 2024 to fund the Green Line project.

Coun. Shane Keating says if that policy were stretched out to 20 years, the city would be able to pay for about one third of its cost.  

It remains to be seen whether the province will commit to funding the remaining third of the Green Line's price tag.

In November, city administration will present the Green Line's proposed southeast route, station locations and transit development plans to council.

Recommendations for the north route from downtown over the Bow River to 16th Avenue will be presented to the city's Transportation and Transit Committee in December.

Construction will get underway in 2017 and the project is expected to be finished by 2024.