‘It’s frustrating for all of us’: City confirms Green Line won’t start construction in 2021

Work that was expected to create thousands of jobs this summer won’t be able to happen quickly enough to catch the 2021 construction season

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The Green Line LRT project is no longer on track to start building this year as planned, city officials said Wednesday.

It’s the latest blow for the largest infrastructure project in Calgary’s history, confirming advocates’ fears about delays. It also raises questions about cost escalations for the $5.5-billion project, which was expected to be finished in 2026.

Green Line general manager Michael Thompson told city council’s Green Line committee that “real progress has been made” on resolving the provincial government’s technical questions about the project. But the process of hiring a company to lay track for the south leg, from Ramsay to Shepard, is still on hold.

  1. An early rendering of what a surface LRT on Centre Street could look like for Calgary's Green Line.

    Green Line construction in 2021 now a ‘fantasy’ as contract pause drags on, supporters say

  2. An early rendering of what the planned Green Line station might look like at 16th Avenue N.

    Green Line work paused over provincial funding uncertainties

That procurement pause was prompted by ongoing work with the province, and it has now gone past the three-month time frame the city initially set last year. Work that was expected to create thousands of jobs this summer won’t be able to happen quickly enough to catch the 2021 construction season.

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The province has promised $1.53 billion for the Green Line, and the federal government is also contributing $1.5 billion.

Councillors said they were discouraged that nine months after a 14-1 vote approved the revised Green Line alignment and a detailed plan for managing procurement and design, the UCP government is still looking for more answers.

“Are you OK with the fact that we are not going to start construction this year?” Coun. Jyoti Gondek asked. “Don’t you feel that’s a failure?”

Thompson acknowledged that for those working on the Green Line, “It’s frustrating for all of us.”

He said the city is having regular meetings with provincial representatives, and they’ve said they hope to move through the review quickly.

“Are we frustrated that we’re not there yet? Yes. Am I frustrated? For sure. But am I focused on ensuring that we bring everyone together to deliver this program? One hundred per cent.”

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi added he was surprised by Transportation and Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver’s comments in a Postmedia column this week.

“My conversations with the minister have very much been, ‘All right, we want to get this on the rails, and we want to move quickly.’ . . . Certainly, I thought we were in a better place than we were in the fall,” Nenshi said.

The mayor added that when the provincial government first said last June that they would do their own review of the Green Line plans, he expected that would take a matter of weeks. But they’re now months down the road.

“I have confidence in what the City of Calgary’s analyses have been,” Nenshi said. “I’m always happy to have it stress-tested, I’m always happy to have folks ask questions, but this cannot go on forever.”

McIver said in a statement Wednesday that the city and province continue to work together productively.

“That’s where the solution lies. We’re hopeful the work we’re doing upfront will save delays down the way. This is the due diligence Albertans expect of their government.”

NDP Municipal Affairs critic Joe Ceci countered that blame for not getting shovels in the ground rests with the provincial government.

“This unnecessary delay is a complete failure by Jason Kenney and the UCP that puts 20,000 jobs at risk at a time when Calgarians need them the most,” he said.

The downtown CTrain route on Saturday, March 13, 2021.
The downtown CTrain route on Saturday, March 13, 2021. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Coun. Shane Keating said contracts to work on the Green Line might have once been considered “sought after,” but “due to all of this confusion and delay, it seems like we’re going to be at the end of the game and maybe a little more risky.”

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He said the province’s concerns about the cost of the project could be “self-inflicted” because of the new delay into 2022.

Thompson and Green Line board chair Don Fairbairn said they are working hard to keep moving the project forward. Fairbairn said while he knows there’s an “extreme level of frustration,” he also needs to deal with the work that’s on the table now and ensure alignment between all three levels of government.

But he said there’s a need to demonstrate certainty to the market, too.

“I think it’s fair to say that the market is struggling to understand the attractiveness of Green Line to them,” Fairbairn said.

“Like you, and others in this discussion, (they) are keenly interested in gaining an understanding of how we move this program forward.”

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Thompson said about $620 million has been spent on the Green Line to date. The city is currently in the process of hiring a construction manager that will handle work to move utilities in the Beltline and downtown, where the Green Line is planned to tunnel underground.

That work is expected to start in August or September this year, and $138 million will go toward it.

The full Green Line is eventually planned to run across Calgary, from 160th Avenue N. to Seton, but the city is building the first phase from 16th Avenue N. to Shepard.

Council will hear further updates on the Green Line in May.

masmith@postmedia.com

Twitter: @meksmith

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