Artist rendering showing tunnel portion of the Green Line route.
YouTube / City of Calgary
With the city now warning that changes could be in store for the proposed route and design for the Green Line LRT project through the downtown, advocates for the project worry the changes could “kill the vision” that promised an underground tunnel from 4th Street to 16th Avenue N.LRT on the Green Foundation president Jeff Binks says he’s concerned the city is changing course to save on construction costs in ways that could ultimately prove harmful.“We’re really concerned that value engineering might kill the vision of what we need Green Line to be in Calgary’s most important neighbourhood, which is downtown,” said Binks.“The risk of getting it wrong is we destroy our downtown core — whether that destruction comes long term because the rails end up on the surface or elevated, or whether it’s just a five-year construction window where streets are ripped up, utilities are being moved.”Binks says he was surprised by Wednesday’s lively transportation committee meeting where city staff said they would be publicly sharing alternatives in the coming weeks to the existing plan for a deep-bore tunnel beneath the Bow River and downtown.Deputy project director Fabiola MacIntyre warned committee members that an analysis has revealed significant technical risks with a deep-bore tunnel. The city says it now plans to investigate ways to shorten the tunnel and “bring as much to surface as possible.”The same meeting saw a cadre of Calgary businessmen urge council to halt the entire $4.9-billion megaproject to conduct more analysis.The group could see their wish fulfilled — at least in part: new timelines for the project reveal that opening day for the Green Line’s critical downtown leg has been pushed back by more than a year to accommodate further consultations.The city has also announced its intention to split the contract for Stage 1 of the Green Line. The first contract will be for a 16-kilometre southern leg from 4th Street S.E. to 126th Avenue S.E. The second contract will span the much trickier four-kilometre downtown section.Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Thursday that the city’s decision to split the contract will allow more local, national and international construction firms to bid on the project.“One of the concerns was that it was such a giant project that we were limiting our pool of bidders to only mega international companies, which means that local companies might have less opportunity to participate. It also means, with fewer bidders, you usually end up with higher bids. You want to have more bidders and more competitive tension.”The delay on the downtown leg, Nenshi said, will give administration time to make alterations to the plan to “take out some of that risk and take out some of that potential cost.”“That’s exactly what we should be doing at this stage of the game before we break ground, because getting this right now is how we avoid cost overruns in the future,” he said.Binks said he doesn’t object to the city delaying construction to “get the downtown right” — but says he’s concerned that old ideas and old design options are being resurrected by citizens and even council members who weren’t paying close attention when decisions were originally made.He said he hopes the city will look at options to “share the risk” — through private-public partnerships or with assistance from the province — before concluding the original vision is too risky or expensive.“The fact is, this project is still needed. There’s hundreds of thousands of Calgarians that need to be able to move through our city and construction needs to move forward on the Green Line,” Binks said.“I’m really concerned with the disconnect on these long projects that this is going to become the norm. As shovels start to go into the ground and people realize that a project is imminent, we’re going to get bogged down in debate and bogged down in conversations because people now are only starting to pay attention.”firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @mpotkins