At a recent event, mayoral candidate Bill Smith had described City Hall’s planning of the future LRT – Green Line project as a “boondoggle”. He had done so due to a number of inconsistencies that had arisen throughout the design of the project, especially when it came to its estimated costs. There is some truth to this critique, however, as a candidate running for city council in Ward 5, I can definitely say that our city has been capable of much worse planning and as an example of this I will present to you just how flawed of an approach our city has taken when looking at the extension (or lack-thereof) of the Blue Line further north in the newer NE communities.
The Blue Line extension
First, what does the Blue Line extension entail? According to the City of Calgary’s own transit page, this expansion includes 7.5 kilometres of track and the construction of 5 stations that will service the area. Without a doubt a much smaller and less complicated project than the Green Line.
The Infrastructure Cost
With all projects, cost is always of great importance. The Green Line’s initial estimate of 4.5 billion dollars for 46 kilometres of track seemed like a big ticket price at first but today, many would consider it a steal knowing that the City’s newest estimates are pegged at 4.6 billion for 20 kilometres. Part of the reason for this cost is related to the difficult topography of north central Calgary, the large sections of underground tunneling necessary through downtown and the expensive expropriations that the city will have to execute.
With these details in mind, one can not help but be irritated by the very little progress present when it comes to extending the Blue Line further up in the NE. What makes this sour reality even worse is that the NE project does not have the same obstacles in planning and construction that the Green Line does. Ward 5’s geography is flat, even with the current development taking place in these new areas there is still vast open space available to built this extension making expropriation and infrastructure reassignment costs relatively low (for now).
Lastly, tunneling of any kind would be on a significantly smaller scale than that of the Green Line. As a comparison the 69 Street SW extension of the Blue Line came at just under 1.5 billion dollars. This cost, was for a track length of 8.2 kilometres, facing difficult terrain, existing infrastructure and being built during booming economic times when construction costs were high. These numbers seem to indicate that if the Blue Line were to be extended today and done properly; its costs under the current economic environment would not surpass a 1 billion dollar price tag.
The Human Cost
The City of Calgary has proven to be exceptionally good at building houses but incredibly poor at building communities. While door knocking in the area many people have told me how difficult it is to buy groceries from a convenient location. As well, they also pointed to how difficult it is to get to work, visit friends and family if they did not have a car. This is a serious problem in our city, our suburbs are car dependent and having the Blue Line extended in the new NE communities would not only give more choice to the residents of the area but would also reduce traffic volumes in these neighborhoods, decreasing the risk of accidents and the amount of time spent in traffic. This is ever more important considering that the NE is home to many families that cannot afford a second car.
Putting the cart before the horse
For decades, the urban planners at City Hall have developed a flawed culture of building new neighborhoods without taking into account the future needs of those who will call these areas home. The lack of long-term planning for the Blue Line is a consequence of this flawed approach. Our city should not be building new neighborhoods if it knows that it does not have the means to build essential public services such as reliable public transportation and multi-purpose community spaces. This lack of a long-term plan, in time, will raise the Blue Line extension’s cost, as new neighborhoods get denser and the road infrastructure becomes more complex. This type of poor planning has led and will lead the average tax payer to pay twice for a project that should have been built right the first time in coordination with the development of the new communities. The city’s passive nature when it comes to essential infrastructure for the NE communities can be summed up through its own disinterested tone: “There is no funding or timelines for the construction of these stations at this time”, when referring to the Blue Line.
One final question
Without a doubt the Green Line is a essential piece of infrastructure that needs to move forward and that could have been planned better however, considering all the information that I have shared, I would like to ask not only Mr. Bill Smith but all the other mayoral candidates, all the other Councillor candidates, and all Calgarians, especially those living in Ward 5 : Is the poor planning of the Blue Line extension, not the biggest boondoggle you’ve ever seen?