Opinion: Speak out before Green Line steamrolls over taxpayers

Article content

Shockingly, city council plans to steamroll taxpayers into paying for a multibillion-dollar transit line that services too few new riders and initially goes nowhere. By ignoring detailed costs and flexible plans, it is seducing taxpayers with stories about “green” benefits, European experts and public survey results, which are all questionable.

The Green Line is not a $5.5-billion project, as promised in the early days. That won’t even cover the cost of the first leg.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

It will cost $20 billion to build the full line — a magnitude of risk that could destroy Calgary’s social and economic future, as well as its reputation as a dynamic, forward-thinking city.

A $20-billion tax burden will be an albatross around our necks — one that will pass on to our kids and grandkids. It would drastically hamstring our ability to tackle priorities such as homelessness, housing, tax mitigation and citizen safety.

Let’s be clear. Our citizens’ group supports improved transit systems. But there’s a better way. One that is affordable, flexible and sensible. A line that viably meets the changing needs of thousands of daily commuters in a post-COVID workplace. A line that reaches densely populated areas around the South Health Campus where new riders (and fares) are guaranteed. A line that preserves green space around Eau Claire and mitigates Calgary’s unforgiving downtown floodplain.

Contrary to popular belief, the Green Line is not a done deal. Taxpayers still have time to influence councillors to rethink the project.

The city’s consortium of consultants will soon submit cost estimates for Phase 1 from Shepard to Eau Claire, perhaps better called the Nowhere Line because too few new commuters will travel this line from nowhere to nowhere.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Detailed information will not likely be public. Too much has changed since a previous council approved the 2017 business case. Today’s decisions can’t be rooted in outdated ridership assumptions, pre-COVID travel patterns and empty office towers. Today’s Green Line board and council decisions can’t be secretly discussed behind closed doors.

City council must conduct an open, transparent and independent review that examines realistic costs and confirms post-COVID ridership projections. While many Calgarians have lost trust in this council, it can be regained with an open, honest accounting of the cost/benefits of this multibillion-dollar megaproject.

The Green Line recently launched a PR campaign to correct “misinformation.” Only now, as the number crunching for Phase 1 is done, will Calgarians glimpse details of City’s largest, most expensive infrastructure project in its history.

The campaign will rationalize the shrunken Green Line (from 44 kilometres and 24 stops to 20 kilometres and 13 stops) to stay within the $5.5-billion budget (half the line for the same budget). What about the rest? What is the cost per commuter to reach more densely populated communities in the southeast and those north of the Bow River? Independent local experts expect the final price tag to exceed $20 billion. Who will foot that monstrous bill?

Advertisement 4

Article content

The city boasts that the federal and provincial governments are committed to the Green Line. Taxpayers shouldn’t hold their breath.

Spending more than $200,000 per day (with $1 billion spent so far), the city is already tapping into other budgets to fund Phase 1. All three levels of government will have a hard time justifying funds to cover ballooning costs, with other municipalities already asking for massive handouts. In any case, municipal, provincial or federal spending has only one taxpayer.

Councillors must be accountable for the costs and benefits of this massive project. They must ask the hard questions and justify the implications for current and future taxpayers.

They mustn’t steamroll over taxpayers. There is too much at stake.

Time to take a stand, Calgary, while you still can.

More than 1,500 Calgarians –— including the Ad Hoc Citizens Committee members Steve Allan, Brian Felesky, Ron Ghitter, Jim Gray, Patti Grier, Barry Lester, Hugh McFadyen, Neil McKendrick, Phil Roberts and Emily Struck — support the “Rethink the Green Line” initiative, urging city councillors to reject closed-door decisions and disclose the full cost benefits of the proposed Green Line project.

Article content