At a recent event, mayoral candidate Bill Smith had described City Hall’s planning of the future LRT – Green Line – as a “boondoggle”. Without a doubt the building of this massive infrastructure project, going from north central Calgary to the south east of the city is a massive undertaking that will have a significant impact on a large number of Calgarians. However, as a candidate running for city council in Ward 5, I can definitely say that the City of Calgary has been capable of much worse planning. I am referring here to the design and extension (or lack thereof) of the Blue Line further up north in the new NE communities of our city.
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 kilometers 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 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 all the obstacles, all the high costs of constructing of the Green Line, simply does not exist at the same level for the Blue Line. The NE of the city 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; 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 would be to buy groceries, go 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 communities of the NE would not only given choice to the residents of this area but it would have reduced 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. A LRT that would have cut through the community would have offered a safer, affordable and quicker method of transport for all residents.
Putting the cart before the horse
For the last 15 years 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 proves this flawed approach. The city should not be building new neighborhoods if it knows that it does not have parallel funds to build essential public services such as reliable public transportation and multi-purpose community spaces. This lack of attention will, in time, raise its cost, as new neighborhoods get denser and the road infrastructure becomes more complex. This type of poor planning has lead to the average tax payer paying 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 in a more efficient manner 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 this not the biggest boondoggle you’ve ever seen?