Calgary's Green Line Debacle
Earlier this week, City Council voted to approve the new arena deal in an 11-4 vote after one week of public engagement.
Given the heated debate that took place, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was the only issue on Council's plate lately.
However, another vote also took place on a project that is ten times the cost of the arena - the Green Line LRT.
Calgary's Green Line has had a shambolic past. It was first proposed to stretch from the deep South to the far North of the city at a cost of about $5 billion.
Some would suggest that getting half the line for the same money might be reason enough to hit the pause button and consider if the project still made sense for Calgarian, but City Council didn't seem to share that worry.
For months they barrelled forward expressing full and complete confidence in the Green Line plan.
Again, you might think the project boss walking off the job might have sent a signal to City Council that all was not well with the most expensive, most technically complex project in the city's history.
But Council still soldiered on, again declaring their full confidence in the Green Line project.
Fast forward to earlier this month, and the Green Line LRT project looked like it was to suffer a catastrophic derailment.
The concerns shared by the business leaders - and many, many others - was that the proposed underground tunnel, which would run as deep as seven stories underground, would be extremely difficult to complete, and risked blowing a massive financial hole in Calgary's budget.
Their suggestion was that the City take a long pause and thoroughly review the project, including the proposed routing, to ensure that the Green Line didn't up financially crippling Calgary.
And yet, even with all of these issues and problems, some City Councillors and their LRT-obsessed followers demanded that the project carry-on forward at full speed.
Which brings us to this week.
Council declined to do that, but did pass a series of motions to try and fix some of the issues associated with the Green Line project.
Notably, they will be establishing an independent Green Line technical risk committee to assess the risks of the project. The City's administration will be looking at new routing options that avoid the deep tunnel. And they will pause the project if they can't determine an appropriate alignment through the downtown before construction on the Southern portion of the line is slated to begin.
However, despite these modestly positive developments, one glaringly obvious question remains unanswered:
How was this project allowed to get this far - virtually to the eve of construction - with so many important issues left unaddressed?
City Council only had to look at other Canadian cities to know how quickly LRT projects can go off the rails if not properly planned.
Edmonton's Metro Line has been plagued with problems since it was opened due to the signalling system chosen for the line - the City Manager lost his job because of it and Edmonton just fired the company responsible for the signalling system after they were unable to adequately fix the problem.
In Ottawa, the tunnel being dug to run their new O-Train line through the city's downtown repeatedly caved in, causing massive sinkholes. The trains chosen by the city, manufactured by SNC-Lavalin, also have trouble operating in snowy and cold conditions.
Calgary remains very much at risk at joining these examples of LRT failure if it doesn't fix the problems with the Green Line.
And City Council's less than stellar record on this file is yet another black eye for City Hall.
Let's hope that despite its poor performance to date, City Council stops looking at this project with rose-coloured glasses, and starts to take seriously the many warnings and setbacks which have happened on the Green Line project do date.
We literally cannot afford to get this project wrong.