By Trevor Scott Howell, Calgary Herald
Politicians, city officials and transit-loving Calgarians celebrated Saturday morning the ceremonial opening of the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history: the $1.4-billion west LRT.
Flanked by a small platoon of provincial MLAs and federal MPs, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi praised the commitment to transit by all levels of government at the opening of the West-Kerby Station on 7th Ave. S.W. — the gateway to the west leg of the LRT.
“Transit matters,” Nenshi told reporters, shortly before climbing behind the wheel of an LRT car to drive through a ceremonial red ribbon.
“Transit investments are among the best investments any city can make, any government can make for that matter,” he said. “They’re investments in reducing congestion, improving air quality, and they’re investments in increasing social mobility for everyone in the community.”
And the community — by the thousands — took full advantage of Saturday’s celebrations, which included free fare along the west leg, as well as free entertainment and events at each of the new stations.
A city spokesperson said the events, which included a petting zoo, live music and magicians, cost an estimated $50,000.
City transportation officials expect about 30,000 riders to use the west LRT Monday — the first full day of service along the route — and project daily ridership of between 37,000 and 45,000. Officials also expect the new line to take 6,000 vehicles off Calgary roads.
The west LRT (the first new LRT line built in Calgary in 25 years) runs eight kilometres from the west end of 7th Avenue S.W. to 69th Street S.W. and includes six new LRT stations, a new interchange, a pedestrian and cycling network as well as the city’s first-ever elevated station, Sunalta, and underground station, Westbrook.
Hundreds packed into the gymnasium at Ernest Manning High School near the 69 Street Station to hear the mayor and premier praise everyone involved in the project and the importance of investing in transit.
“It’s a really good day for the city to be able to put a $1.4 billion infrastructure project in place,” said Premier Alison Redford. “This allows us to link communities from the northeast to the southwest. It changes the character and feel of the city.”
The west LRT was originally budgeted at $700 million when city council approved funding for the project in 2007. That figure only included costs for the trains, tracks and new stations.
Additional costs, such as land purchases, a new interchange, construction of a new Ernest Manning High School, a trench at the 45th Station as well as $35 million in cost overruns ultimately pushed the final tab to $1.4 billion.
Redford deferred to former Calgary alderman and current Transportation Minister Ric McIver to announce $473 million in long-promised funds from the province’s Green Transit Initiatives Program, or Green Trip.
“It’s something that’s been long coming,” said McIver, referring to the recently signed agreement between the city and province.
“The Green Trip funding from the first tranche is agreed to and that’s part of this project as well as buying LRT cars … and planning of the southeast SETWAY,” he said.
With the west LRT finally completed, the city must continue to improve Calgary’s transit system, including dedicated busways across the city and better service to Mount Royal University, said Nenshi.
“This is a project that’s never-ending,” he said. “We will need to continue to work on it to build out the transit system that Calgarians deserve.”
Officials, including the mayor and premier, repeatedly praised city council, past and present, as well as former mayor Dave Bronconnier for spearheading the construction of the west LRT.
“It is absolutely fair to say the planning, the vision, the dream for this line of the LRT was Dave Bronconnier’s,” said Nenshi.
But the former mayor politely shared the credit.
“I would say this was not really one person’s vision but a community’s vision for years, particularly residents on the west side,” said Bronconnier. “City council has been very tenacious and focused on expanding transportation choices for Calgarians.”
“What’s the future look like?” he said. “That answer’s best left to the mayor and members of city council that are currently serving.”