Back in 2017, when I first ran to represent the constituents of Ward 5, I was the only candidate in the race that put a strong emphasis on extending the Blue Line LRT further up into the NE. The motivation to do so, was backed by the developments of the Green Line, a landmark public sector project that I’ve been following since 2015. I was amazed by the political negotiations, the ever increasing cost of the project and ultimately, the very sluggish progress of this essential piece of public infrastructure. The Green Line’s “purgatory” like pace, served as a massive warning sign, as a cautionary tale of what other extensions of the LRT network could look like if both City administration and City Council did not have a more proactive approach to other essential pieces of public infrastructure. Due to this, it’s worth asking: “Where is the Blue Line now and how much has it progressed?”
A quick look back
Before we talk about the present, we need to take a quick look at the past in 2012, when the City of Calgary had just completed both the new extensions of the Blue Line in the SW and in the NE. Since 2007, the Blue Line terminus was located at McKnight-Westwinds but 5 years later it would be connected to both the Martindale and Saddletowne stations by a 2.9 km track with the latter becoming the new end of line. This all came at a cost of 142 million dollars or 48 million dollars per kilometre of track. Whereas the brand new leg in the SW covered 8.2 kilometres, 7 stations and came at a cost of 1.5 billion dollars (195 million dollars per kilometre) and yes, like back then, you can tell the difference in craftsmanship between these two end of lines, but I’ll save those observations for another blog post.
It is also worth mentioning that at the time, City Hall had already made some estimates on various projects including the Blue Line extension further up in the NE. Those early numbers showed a 7.5 km track that would cost around 355 million dollars (47 million/km). Below you can see the preliminary map and costs associated with this project.
The 2017 Municipal Election
During the 2017 municipal election , as a candidate for City Council I was astonished by the amount of coverage the Green Line had received while next to no one was talking about the Blue Line and the benefits that would come with its construction, especially to those living in the newer NE communities. A project that would have been constructed on much easier terrain, with no drastic changes in elevation, that required zero bridges and had no old neighborhood infrastructure to contend with was not even considered by the media, the ward candidates or the mayoral candidates for that matter.
The last 4 years
Although I was not successful in being elected in 2017, I was happy to see that my advocacy had brought the topic to the attention and the lips of the current Councillor – George Chahal with him going as far as bringing up the topic in 2018 and 2019 but with not much detail. When it comes to projects like these, talk is the cheapest part of the endeavor and even that was in very short supply. In order to get an update on this project, I requested City administration to forward to me the most up to date route plans and designs for the future LRT expansion, what I received was disappointing to say the least. If we look both at the “Stations and Site Plans” and “LRT Plan and Profile” for this future extension we can see that the most recent document revisions took place in March 2018 and February 2019.
This detail is embarrassing! This means that we have gone at least 2 years without any kind of update or engagement on this project. Neither the City nor the Councillor himself has engaged the constituents of Ward 5 on these plans. Some might argue that due to COVID-19 such engagements are not possible but I can tell you from my own personal experience, that the city has initiated multiple dialogues with its citizens on various topics from the Green Line, to public art and many other neighborhood street improvement initiatives. There is simply no excuse or reason for why the Blue Line, especially from a planning point of view has stalled in the way that it has.
The Final Cost….for now
As with examples from the past and the present, it is incredibly difficult to accurately estimate the final cost of an LRT project. However, what we do know is that the longer a project takes and the more obstacles are in its way, the higher the price tag will be. We are already seeing this. In the “New NE”, with the construction and expansion of new communities like Cornerstone, Savanna and Skyview, the city is putting in the ground new utilities and roads that will have to be adjusted when the expansion will finally reach the construction stage. Instead of our city being proactive, and prioritizing the construction of the LRT line as the backbone of this new area, our City Council and our City administration have chosen to be reactive. This approach has lead to many negative effects, none more evident than the higher estimated cost for the Blue Line extension. Below, you can see a recent document to the Standing Policy Committee on Transportation and Transit. As we read through the documentation we can see that the new cost estimates for this project have doubled from the original 355 million dollars for 7.5 km of track in 2012 to 723 million dollars for 7.3 km of track. This is surprising when you consider that our City has yet to build a single new meter of LRT track in the NE.
I think it goes without saying that this reactive approach has not only led to a higher cost to the Blue Line but it has also condemned those who live in the “New NE” to continue doing so in a community of limited choice when it comes to mobility. The “good news” is that this lack of action still allows us the opportunity to get this project right but in order to do so one of the many steps necessary is to elect the candidate that will make this project his top priority throughout his mandate and I sincerely believe that I am the person to do this. I hope to make this abundantly clear during the campaign and I truly believe that together we can do this right!