Nenshi can’t make the trains run on time

It didn’t take long for Naheed Nenshi to run into his first major setback as mayor. The southeast C-Train line he so fervently promised during his campaign is proving difficult to attain. Currently the amount of funding allocated for transit will not be enough to finish the southeast line for another 10 years while making necessary improvements to existing public transit routes.

The province’s GreenTRIP fund will provide Calgary and the surrounding areas with about $800 million. This is enough money to finish the southeast line, but spending the $800 million all in one place may not fit the GreenTRIP guidelines. The funding is meant to improve public transit and reduce carbon emissions for the Calgary region, which includes Airdrie, Chestermere and Cochrane. Some council members like ward 10 alderman Andre Chabot say that spending the money on improving bus rapid transit would benefit a larger number of people in the entire region than the southeast train line.

While different options are on the table, Nenshi has made it clear that council has not shelved the southeast line just yet. After the deadline for GreenTRIP project proposals was pushed back from the end of this month to the end of January, we should expect some heated council debates over three main approaches. The city could buy more C-Train cars, improve the Bus Rapid Transit system, purchase land for the southeast line and construct as far as Riverbend by the end of the next decade, or simply put all current and future funding towards the southeast line with no guarantee of when it will be finished.

It’s a tough call, as each option falls in the category of barely adequate but better-than-nothing. Some options appear to be quick fixes while others at least step in the right direction. The risk of beginning to build the shorter line is that the completion date for the full extension will be unknown. On the other hand, building to Riverbend will make it easier for commuters to get to the southeast industrial park.

It’s a shame to put off the southeast line for another 10 years when money is available to at least get the ball rolling. Yes, the timeline is unclear, but that date will only get further away the longer the project is put on the shelf.

Serving the southeast industrial park won’t help the communities further south, who will still need to take busses or drive to reach the train

extension. But the commute will be shorter and other measures– such as introducing BRT specific lanes– will ease transportation issues until the full line can be built.

Clearly, some residents are getting impatient and do not think that BRT should be the sole southeast solution for the next 10 years. Once GreenTRIP funding runs out, there will be no permanent transit system in place to service these citizens.

Choosing not to start the southeast train line will also not look good politically for Nenshi. This is one of his first tough decisions to make and many voters will be upset if he can’t deliver on his promise. “Choose wisely,” says the knight that guards the cup of commuter contentment. Is Nenshi all talk like the critics say? Or can he get things done?

Nenshi can only work with what he is given, however, and it is clear that the southeast train line will be in development and construction long past this council and the next. What matters is that he gets the ball rolling with the gusto that so characterized his campaign. It will discredit Nenshi’s trustworthiness if he at least doesn’t go down without a fight on this issue. He can’t simply do nothing.

We can only hope that through this commuter conundrum council will seek to remedy the root cause– urban sprawl. The more we spread out the more we’ll have to split our resources between the BRT, LRT and roads so each is barely-adequate instead of sufficient– the cup of commuter contentment overflowing.

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