A CTrain heads towards downtown on the Blue Line in this file photo.
Gavin Young / Postmedia
A group of well-known Calgary businessmen launched a full-throated attack on the Green Line LRT project at city hall Wednesday, questioning the city’s cost projections and due diligence.The group, helmed by veteran oilman Jim Gray, made an informal presentation to council’s transportation committee Wednesday, urging a halt to spending and a “one-year pause” to carry out an “in-depth” review of the $4.65-billion project.“This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Gray said in chambers Wednesday. “If we stumble on this, it’ll take this city down — not just fiscally, but our reputation will be lost and we can’t afford that. This is a city that needs all hands on deck.”Gray said the group had examined applicable studies and advice from experts and concluded the project carried an “unacceptably high risk” of becoming an “economic catastrophe” for the city.According to a letter co-signed by Brian Felesky, Steve Allan and Barry Lester, external and internal risk estimates provided to the city caution that the project could go over budget by as much as $2 billion.Transportation chair Shane Keating said the $2-billion figure cited by the group may have been based on interpretations of early cost estimates that have since been further refined.“Stopping the Green Line, or pausing the Green Line, is absolutely the wrong direction to go,” Keating said.“But taking sections of the Green Line that give us difficulty and saying, ‘what can we do differently?’ is absolutely the right way to go.”Committee members voted Wednesday to have administration respond with a letter to the concerns raised by the businessmen. City staff said they have been in discussion with the group since last February.Wednesday’s meeting also revealed a number of major updates to the Green Line project.The project team acknowledged they have arrived at a “key pivot point” and that they are no longer interested in a “really deep” four-kilometre tunnel traversing the downtown.In a news release following the meeting Wednesday, the city said they are investigating “ways to shorten the tunnel and bring as much to surface as possible.”“The technical risks that we’re identifying are of significance,” said deputy project director Fabiola MacIntyre. “We have encountered a number of challenges. The centre city is very complex — but it’s (also) four kilometres of 20. We’ve got 16 (kilometres) ready to go, but the four kilometres are very challenging.”Project staff say they plan to split Stage 1 into two contracts. Construction firms will be able to bid separately on the first 16-kilometre stretch from 4th Street S.E. to 126th Avenue S.E. in Shepard, and the more technically challenging four-kilometre centre city area from 16th Avenue N. to 4th Street S.E.Stage 1 construction had previously been scheduled to begin in 2020. Now, the city says construction won’t begin until 2021 on the southern leg of the route, and work on the core might not begin until 2022.Procurement work for the downtown portion of the project has also been delayed until further engagement with downtown businesses and the public can be completed.Coun. Evan Woolley said he disagrees with the strategy to delay work on the downtown, arguing he worries the city will be left with a train from “Ramsay to a maintenance facility.”“My support for this project has always been based on it working for the downtown of this city,” Woolley said. “Putting a shovel in the ground before we have great certainty around what this project is going to look like is very challenging for me.”The city also announced the name of the Green Line’s new project manager Wednesday. Allan Neill, an engineer and veteran project manager, took over the post June 3. Previously, city transportation boss Michael Thompson was overseeing the project following the departure of Paul Giannelia.email@example.comTwitter: @mpotkins