Southwest BRT estimate soars while petition against it deemed 'insufficient'

Opponents of a transit project designed, in part, to speed up access to the downtown core from the south, have fresh ammunition to work with as the city releases an updated estimate on the total cost.

Initial estimate pegged bus rapid transit project at $40M but a closer look puts it closer to $65M

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was surprised to see a new estimate for the Southwest bus rapid transit (BRT) project had climbed to $65M when an preliminary estimate pegged it at $40M. (CBC)

Opponents of a transit project designed, in part, to speed up access to the downtown core from the south, have fresh ammunition as the city releases an updated estimate on the total cost.

The cost of Calgary's Southwest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project has soared from a rough estimate of $40 million to a more detailed estimate ranging from $57 million to a whopping $65.6 million.

The proposal is a 22-kilometre bus route from Woodbine to the downtown core. It's designed to take some pressure off of the south leg of the LRT by increasing bus usage. Some of the plan includes dedicated bus lanes to reduce traffic congestion in peak times.

The group most opposed to the project, Ready to Engage, pounced.

"This is what we have been talking about for the last five months … in terms of what is this really going to cost," said group volunteer Alan Hallman.

He said there seems to be a disconnect between the mayor and council and the city administration on this project.

"We believe you have been hoodwinked by the administration and that is today, what we find out to be the truth," Hallman said.

Significantly higher than original estimate

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Coun. Brian Pincott and Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart also questioned the increase in a joint statement.

"We are concerned to learn that the cost estimate for the Southwest Transitway is significantly higher than the original estimate that was set out in the 2010 functional study for the project," the statement reads.

"Although this cost escalation can be accommodated in the overall council approved budget for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) program, we need answers to fully understand how such a significant change could occur."

Opposition to the project has been significant, with public meetings well attended and vocal. At times too vocal for the mayor who, in February, said all future public engagement would be online.

Nenshi said Tuesday, however, a final open house might be possible if people can be civil.

Petition dropped

A petition spearheaded by the Ready to Engage group failed to meet the threshold, the city determined this week.

The initial count of 3,390 signatures filling 29 pages was reduced to 2,165 after 1,225 petitioners were "removed for missing requirements."

For a petition like this to succeed, it would have required valid signatures from 10 per cent of the population, or about 123,000.

Hallman says the petition was more about the message.

"Let's not be drunken sailors. Let's be very prudent with our tax dollars," Hallman said.

Looking for answers

The city is looking for answers about the increased project estimate.

"We will work with administration to ensure that these questions are answered at the Transit and Transportation Committee meeting on April 20."


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