$1B committed so far to Calgary’s Green Line amid negotiations with developer

Negotiations continue between Green Line officials and the consortium of developers selected to build the $5.5 billion project, as committed spending on the project crosses the $1 billion mark.

Bow Transit Connectors was selected as the development partner for the first phase of the megaproject, which kicked off negotiation earlier this year.

Darshpreet Bhatti, the Green Line project’s CEO, told Global News the intent of the negotiations is to design the LRT line and determine development costs within the budget allocated for the project.

“That design itself will be the foundation for costs, because then we can use the quantities and design to cost it,” Bhatti told Global News. “We will have identified and quantified risks based on those designs and then we will have a schedule as well.”

Following that work, discussions will move to refining the design and addressing any gaps identified.

“We are designing every aspect of it now to not just look at conceptually where it is, but if I were to build it today exactly how will I build it,” Bhatti said.

Councillor concerns

With negotiations ongoing, Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra is raising questions and concerns he has about the design of some stations along the southeast leg of the line.

In a 17-page submission addressed to Green Line officials, Carra said he is worried the project’s “city-shaping mandate has suffered” following stiff opposition to the project, and has had “extremely limited exposure” to detailed design.

“At this moment of negotiation when the danger of the Green Line falling through has passed, but the danger of locking into something that is not as ideal is possible,” Carra told Global News. “The motivation was to get back to the original intent of the Green Line, which was to shape significantly how we live in the city of Calgary.”

Carra’s concerns range from connectivity between the stations and surrounding neighbourhoods, as well as transit-oriented residential and commercial development around the stations.

According to Carra, the vision for the Green Line stations includes large public plazas with commercial and residential spaces that connect with multi-use pathways.

“In an ideal world we would’ve known a long time ago, and had a clear idea,” Carra said. “If we knew what the station areas were going to look like, and what the real estate opportunities were, and people were envisioning eating ice cream and sipping a coffee near the station areas, I don’t think people like Jason Kenney would’ve had the ability to characterize it as a train to nowhere, and withhold funding for two years at tremendous cost escalation.”

Bhatti told Global News the project team is still compliant with the initial vision and mandate given to them by the city following years of consultation and feedback.

However, the Green Line team is limited to the mandate around the stations and public spaces, while the transit-oriented development will fall under the city’s purview.

“Those improvements are needed, the notion of transit-oriented development is key to Green Line,” Bhatti said. “It’s just many of those are the jurisdiction of the city and the city is working on those.”

Bhatti added that the designs will be made public when they are completed and fully costed, as aspects change “weekly and sometimes daily” throughout the negotiations.

“It’s imperative that we come up with a solution and then come to the public and say ‘this is the best that can be delivered within the mandate that we have’ rather than piecemealing it and just showing our progressive design,” Bhatti said.

According to Carra, he has spoken with the Green Line team about his letter and work is underway within the city planning department around future development near the Green Line stations.

“Now that we’re getting a Green Line, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do the work that was previously put on hold,” he said.

Committed spending surpasses $1 billion

According to the latest update to the city’s Green Line Board, committed spending for the project has surpassed $1 billion to date.

That funding has gone towards preliminary work and land acquisition along the route, utility relocation work to make way for the tunnel under the downtown core, design and engineering costs, and the procurement of 28 rail cars to run on the line when it’s complete.

The $5.5 billion project will run from Shepard in the city’s southeast and then tunnel under the downtown core to Eau Claire.

The money already allocated and the scope of the project have become concerning for a citizens group who are calling for changes.

The Ad Hoc Citizens Committee to Rethink the Green Line said it is worried about escalating costs, and tunneling under the downtown core.

Jim Gray, a former oilman and philanthropist, is one of the founding members of the committee; he said the project is “too big to get wrong.”

“We hope that we just pause, don’t cancel the Green Line, we’re not in favour of that, and we consider alternatives,” Gray told Global News.

Gray argues the line would be much cheaper if, instead, the Green Line ran at surface level from the downtown core further south to Seton to guarantee more ridership.

“There’s still time,” Gray said. “We’ve spent $1 billion, we’re spending $100,000 to $150,000 per day, we’re ripping up downtown and we haven’t laid any track yet.”

The development phase is expected to continue through June of next year, to start construction sometime in late 2024.

As of now, Bhatti said there are no plans to change the scope of the project.

“At this point our focus is to keep (the scope) intact,” Bhatti said. “We would then be having that discussion with council, but we’re not at that stage at this point.”


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