Any hope of getting construction underway on Calgary’s Green Line LRT project has been dashed as city officials confirmed ground won’t be broken on the project this year as originally planned.
Work on the first leg of the multi-billion-dollar project was slated to begin in July, which proponents called into question after the process to find a contractor to build the line between Ramsay and Shepard was paused late last year.
Green Line project manager Michael Thompson told the city’s Green Line committee on Wednesday that although “real progress is being made” on working through technical questions from the provincial government about the project, the pause has gone on too long to meet the 2021 construction season.
Proponents of the project said that work would create upwards of 20,000 jobs.
“Even if the procurement resumes today on Segment 1, that initial construction would not be beginning in 2021,” Thompson said.
In December 2020, the City of Calgary agreed to pause procurement for a builder to allow the UCP government to conduct “due diligence” on the 46-kilometre, $4.9-billion LRT project.
The pause came after council voted 14-1 to proceed with the project this year, with expectations it would be finished in 2026.
The latest development in the saga of the largest public infrastructure project in the city’s history is raising questions about cost estimates moving forward.
“I keep hearing from the province that, ‘Oh, we just have a few more questions that are being answered,’ which is fine, but get the lead out,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.
“It’s important to get this thing on the rails because we’re seeing huge cost inflation in the post-pandemic recovery, and every minute you wait is millions of dollars wasted.”
Several councillors sitting on the Green Line committee expressed frustration Wednesday that the provincial government continues to have questions.
“It’s a little bit mind-numbing to me that all the things we’ve been talking about for all these years, we’re still talking about,” Green Line committee vice-chair and Ward 3 councillor Jyoti Gondek said in the meeting.
“Why are we having the exact same conversations all over again, and why is there a four-month procurement delay over questions they’ve already had answered?”
Thompson said the city has had a good working relationship with the province and that they meet multiple times weekly.
He added that it’s been indicated that the province wants to get through the review quickly.
“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Thompson said. “While it’s frustrating for us and personally frustrating, our focus is on making sure that we have a good product at the end of the day.”
Green Line Board chair Don Fairburn told the committee that the project team is interested in both the short-term and long-term interests of Calgarians, adding that the work will continue diligently.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in the position of driving forward to meet — what I’ll characterize fairly — as an extreme level of frustration around the commencement of this work,” Fairburn said. “We also have to balance the completion of this work with the commencement of the work.
“There’s no point of thinking solely how we can get shovels in the ground immediately if, in fact, the consequences of doing that are not helpful to us in the long run.”
In a statement to Global News on Wednesday, Transportation Minister Ric McIver said the province and the city continue to work together productively, and that he appreciated the city’s co-operation.
“That’s where the solution lies. We’re hopeful the work we’re doing upfront will save delays down the way,” McIver said.
“This is the due diligence Albertans expect of their government.”
The province has committed $1.53 billion to the project, with the federal government also contributing $1.5 billion.
NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci said the blame for the delay and consequences falls on the the provincial government.
“This unnecessary delay is a complete failure by (Premier) Jason Kenney and the UCP that puts 20,000 jobs at risk at a time when Calgarians need them the most,” he said in a statement.
Green Line committee chair and Ward 12 councillor Shane Keating told Global News that he is considering a delay into 2022 a failure on all parties involved in the project.
His concern now lies with the procurement process, and if the Green Line can be competitive enough to attract bidders despite the delays.
“The confidence in the market has to be built up so well in the next few months that people are going to look at us and say, ‘We want to bid on your project,’” Keating said.
“The (government of Alberta) has to take responsibility.”
According to Green Line officials, $620 million has been spent on the project to date and work is currently underway to hire a construction manager to move utilities in the downtown core and Beltline. The second stage of the project sees the Green Line tunnel through those areas.
That work is expected to begin in August and will cost $138 million, officials said.
Another update on the Green Line is expected in May.
— With files from Global News’ Adam Toy
Watch below: Some Global News videos about the Green Line project.