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To pause or not to pause? Questions loom about Green Line LRT

Last Updated Jul 11, 2019 at 4:47 pm MDT

(Tom Ross - 660NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — With another important discussion coming up at Calgary City Hall, this time about the Green Line LRT project, another divide is forming between councillors.

Ward 8’s Evan Woolley will be presenting a motion on July 22 asking to pause the project, due to recent changes on how to build the multi-billion dollar train line through the downtown core to connect the north and south legs.

RELATED: Deputy Director of Green Line LRT project resigns

It has been met with derision from some, most notably Ward 3’s Jyoti Gondek, but then Woolley received support from someone else — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

In a Postmedia column, Kenney said he is in favour of hitting the pause button, due to rising costs and questions about what communities the Green Line will be able to service.

On Thursday during a Stampede breakfast in southwest Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Ward 6 Councillor Jeff Davison and Calgary-Centre MP Kent Hehr all said pausing it would not be the right decision.

“Sixteen kilometres of it is ready to go,” said Nenshi. “I think it makes a ton of sense to start construction on those 16 kilometres. Look, it’s going to create 12,000 jobs which are sorely needed right now, and the cost of construction is low. So we’ll get started while we continue the design work on the complicated part through the downtown.”

Woolley also made reference to the current proposal, which is building the south leg of the line from 16 Avenue North down to the southeast, as a “train to nowhere”.

That comment ruffled the mayor’s feathers as well.

“I don’t know if the 125,000 people a day who are expected to use the southern part would appreciate their neighbourhoods being called ‘nowhere,'” he said.

With Premier Kenney saying he has lots of questions about the Green Line, Nenshi said he is ready to answer them.

“We’ve got some time set up in the next couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to helping him understand the work that’s already been done,” Nenshi said. “The questions people are asking are good questions, but that’s why we’ve been studying them for a year.”

READ MORE: Green Line project should be put on hold: Calgary councillor

Part of the conversation that is fueling a desire to pause is the comments from experts and business leaders, who say the scope of the project has changed since it was first proposed years ago.

Councillor Davison agrees with that sentiment but adds building the line remains crucially important.

“The reality is we have to look at a more comprehensive plan to get this done, and I’m not convinced that the business case that was once put in place is what should move forward with today. Now, that’s not to say should we pause or abandon the Green Line, I think the Green Line is desperately needed. The question is what’s the most comprehensive way and the best way we can get it done under the fiscal constraints we have,” Davison said. “This is a five billion dollar spend, and I think we have to get back to the table and start looking at how do we do this in the most financially capable means possible, but at the same time we have to have a serious look at it.”

Davison added that there is essentially a pause built into the project as it stands now because construction can start in the deep south while design work continues on the downtown section.

And on the federal side, unwavering support remains.

“Of course it’s okay to have conversations,” said Hehr. “That being said, as the Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre, this is an important project for the citizens I represent, and our federal government has fully funded our portion of it.”

On Twitter, Calgary-Nosehill MP Michelle Rempel detailed why pausing the project would be a hindrance, while also urging a reconsideration of the route.

Rempel wrote that instead of putting the train along Centre Street to go to the north end of Calgary, it should be moved closer to Deerfoot Trail in order to prevent the need for a costly tunnel and make it easier to connect to the Calgary International Airport.

Before the Alberta provincial election, Jason Kenney said he will still support the Green Line, though back then he also pointed out he was curious why only half of it was being built first after he helped the previous Conservative government secure funding for the whole line in 2015.

It’s unclear when exactly Mayor Nenshi will be able to speak to Kenney about the project, though he indicated he is ready to try and convince the premier that all is well.

“He’s got great questions, and we’ve answered them.”