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UCP government wants a business case for Calgary's Green Line

·4 min read
An artist's rendering of a ground-level station on the new Green Line LRT.  (City of Calgary - image credit)
An artist's rendering of a ground-level station on the new Green Line LRT. (City of Calgary - image credit)

After months of talks, both the Alberta government and the City of Calgary say they're closer to a deal on the Green Line.

Last week, the province sent the city a letter asking it to submit a business case for the $5.5-billion LRT project.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there's a reason why the city's business case isn't already on a desk at the legislature.

"They wouldn't accept it because they had all these questions that have now apparently been resolved — with exactly what we had before," said Nenshi.

The city paused procurement on the megaproject last December, because the province said it had technical concerns with what the city wants to build.

What exactly those concerns are have never been publicly explained. Even members of council say they don't know what the technical issues are on the provincial side.

Last July, city council voted to revise the alignment for the first stage of the Green Line.

That resulted in a shorter downtown tunnel which is expected to keep the project on budget; it also results in a shallower tunnel which helps control costs.

Sign of progress

The head of city council's Green Line committee, Coun. Shane Keating, said he considers the call for a business case as a sign of progress.

"All the [provincial] technical people have been talking to the [city's] technical people and resolved the fact that there are no technical problems," said Keating.

With those concerns now resolved and the province requesting the city submit its business case for the Green Line, he anticipates a funding agreement will be concluded soon.

"I'm guessing that the business case submitted would actually be the final business case."

The province's letter prompted the city board appointed to oversee the construction of the Green Line to call a snap meeting at 8 a.m. this past Monday. That occurred just five days after its last monthly meeting.

Nothing substantial was discussed in public prior to moving into a closed session.

Board chair Don Fairbairn said the meeting had to be held in private.

"We are in an environment that both from a legal and commercial perspective compels us to have this discussion in closed [session]."

Nothing was revealed in public about the private session as the board determined releasing information would be harmful to intergovernmental relations, constituted advice from officials and that it could be harmful to economic and other interests of the city.

Letter remains private

The province is refusing to publicly release the letter Transportation Minister Ric McIver sent to the city.

In a statement, the minister's press secretary McKenzie Kibler said the government expects to receive the city's business case soon and that "hard, collaborative and positive work" had pushed the project forward.

"Provincial approval would only be provided once a revised detailed business case is submitted by the City of Calgary to Alberta Transportation, hopefully by the end of May," stated Kibler.

"We would then require an amendment to the City's grant agreement."

When asked how much time it might take to make that amendment, Kibler responded that it wouldn't be long.

Potential mistake

There is one wrinkle in the province's letter.

It referred to the city's proposal as being an LRT line from Shepard station in the southeast to Eau Claire station.

The city's actual proposal calls for the Green Line to run from Shepard to 16th Avenue North.

It's unclear whether the reference to the route in the letter is a mistake. One city official said it's possible the letter would need to be re-issued.

When council revised the alignment in July 2020, council agreed to break the alignment into three segments.

The plan is to start construction on the portion from Shepard to the Elbow River.

Work would then proceed on the underground portion from Victoria Park to Eau Claire. Once that segment is well underway, council decided that the city would then go ahead with the final section.

That portion would see the Green Line going across the Bow River on a new bridge and then travel along Centre Street to reach 16th Avenue North.

Mayor Nenshi said this week that even if a funding commitment is reached in the next few weeks, it's unlikely any construction on the Green Line could start until 2022.

The Green Line board heard earlier this month that $633.8 million in local, provincial and federal money has been spent on the project.

Those funds have been used to buy land, on design and engineering work as well as enabling works which prepare the alignment for construction.

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