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Funding guarantees needed to ensure whole Green Line is built: Gondek

FILE PHOTO: Green Line SE map. (CREDIT: City Of Calgary)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — As an ongoing provincial review has already pushed back the start of construction on the Green Line LRT, there are more rising concerns about the future of the overall project and whether it will be able to go all the way up to north Calgary communities.

On Monday during a city council meeting, councillors received confidential information about the project behind closed doors. When they returned to the chambers, Ward 3’s Jyoti Gondek raised a motion that sought to direct more funding to the line in order to ensure its full completion.

“To provide some extra protection and make sure that the full project gets completed as we get funding from the other two levels of government,” she said. “(North Calgary) will not be overlooked anymore. We are dedicating 50 per cent of future transit capital to their needs and their communities that did not make it into stage one.”

To summarize, the motion aims to make it so no less than half of all transit money that comes in from the provincial and federal governments can be put into the Green Line fund to balance out any lost funding or cover cost overruns.

Stage one of the line, which was supposed to start construction in 2021, would begin the project in the southeast community of Shepard and stretch it up to Inglewood and Ramsay. Then further stages would manage to take it through the downtown core, up to 16 Ave. and eventually to the north end of the line at 160 Ave.

READ MORE: Paused Green Line LRT project to be discussed at council Monday

But for several months, the province has been reviewing its commitment of $1.5 billion towards the nearly $5 billion deal. When recently asked about the status of the review, Transportation Minister Ric McIver said there’s no timeline on completion and they are still working hard to solve various undisclosed technical issues before procurement can move ahead.

The questions about how long this review is taking and what the end goal is continues to raise red flags among supporters of the line.

“There’s been a lot of changes with the Green Line,” said LRT on the Green President Jeff Binks. “But one thing that’s universally been said since the beginning is: the longer we wait to build, the more expensive this thing is going to get. We are now seeing that happen.”

There are already pandemic-related cost concerns, as material costs have skyrocketed since last year. Lumber, for example, is more expensive than ever before and Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that other materials could follow such as steel and concrete.

Nenshi said this is partly why they have to wait until the province signs off.

“The last thing you want to do is build something that doesn’t connect to anything, and so because it’s all one big project we want to make sure that the early work actually gets people to where they need to go,” he said. “The direction from council says that if they run out of money, they stop building at Eau Claire right now. If that is the case, Calgarians living north of the river should be very concerned about when the Green Line will arrive in their neighbourhoods. It’s looking less likely today than it was yesterday.”

Binks said some of these questions are why he was happy to see Gondek raise the motion on Monday.

“(Councillor Gondek’s motion) is probably one of the most important developments we’ve seen in the Green Line in years,” he said. “Kind of step back a little bit, refocus, and say ‘no this is about building the whole thing and making sure it goes all the way to north Calgary and all the way into southeast Calgary, and how are we going to do it.'”

Despite some urgency on the topic, Gondek’s motion was referred back to administration for further review and it will come back to council for a later date to be discussed again.

READ MORE: Federal budget falls short in meeting Calgary needs: Nenshi

“I’m always frustrated when we kick things back to administration because we get so concerned whether or not we’ve done the due diligence,” she said.

Gondek said that due diligence had been done almost a year ago with the approval of more than a dozen recommendations, one of which was to look at taking transit money and putting it towards the Green Line to keep the finances steady. Even while it would redirect some wider transit-related funds, Gondek said there would still be money to improve other aspects of the system such as buses.

The councillor added that despite low ridership numbers, the pandemic has reinforced the need for a strong public transit system as people have less financial security and may not be able to afford vehicles in some circumstances, and it will be important for the economic recovery for people to get to work in all areas of the city.

When looking at the bigger picture and factoring in these delays and all the uncertainty, Gondek expressed some worry that Calgary may get overlooked by companies that could build the project.

“We are competing, North America-wide, with other cities that have made big, bold announcements saying they believe in transit projects, so that’s what I’m hyper aware of. The competition is fierce to get good people to build transit projects. If we’re sitting around here twiddling our thumbs, thinking about whether or not we believe in transit, we’re going to miss out.”