The hard-left collective four on Calgary’s city council (Druh Farrell, Brian Pincott, Gian-Carlo Carra and Evan Woolley) have managed to stir up quite some discussion through their hyperbolic posturing during a committee meeting the other day. Discussion on issues is always a good thing. The Flakey Four (ht. Rick Bell) however are on more of a water muddying mission than any real pursuit of facts. It has been something of a dark comedy as we listen to these four initially claim to be concerned about costs (they never have shown such concern before), yet invariably go on anti-auto tirades as soon as extended discussion ensues.
The four aforementioned city councillors are all inner-city representatives with long-established reputations of being anti-suburb. These four are extremely ideologically driven and consistently oppose anything they view as being supportive of suburban development or automotive infrastructure. Their opposition to the ring road has utterly nothing to do with the cost of the project and everything to do with the fact that the road will serve the needs of suburbanites.
It’s time to cut through some of the BS.
For starters, this is a provincial issue and not even within the jurisdiction of Calgary’s city council. The province has already made it clear that this project is going forward no matter how much noise inner-city councillors make.
Next is a demonstration of need. Opponents of the ring-road are simply claiming that we don’t need it. In the poorly edited image below I will demonstrate the need.
I couldn’t find an image that combines current traffic flow with the projected ring road location so I cobbled one together. If you can squint really well or expand the image you can see the need for this traffic artery demonstrated.
The poorly drawn yellow line is an approximate rendering of where the ring road is going to go. The dark purple lines on the map indicate roads that carry over 100,000 vehicles per day. People familiar with Calgary’s Southwest will recognize the traffic bottlenecks immediately. Glenmore Trail, Crowchild Trail and 14th Street SW are all heavily congested with both commuter and trucking traffic. As can be clearly seen, all of those roads will see a great reduction in traffic with the coming of the ring-road as traffic can and will by-pass those narrow and traffic-light laden routes.
The red line is pointing to where development will be happening in the city of Calgary. The city boundary includes those areas and development down there is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. Calgary is a fast growing city and despite the efforts of our density obsessed members of city council, 92% of people are choosing to live in the suburbs. Most People just do not and will not squash themselves into inner-city condos no matter what the inner-city ideological four think.
Hundreds of thousands of people will be building on and living in the Southwest region of Calgary in coming years. Is not one of our common complaints that infrastructure is always built after the fact rather than in anticipation of growth? The need for the ring road is already there and will only become more acute with time.
The need for the ring road is clearly established. The Flakey Four loves wistfully talking about the amount of LRT tracks that could be laid with the money but that will not aid in the movement of goods and services. Your plumber is not going to ride the train to your house, a parent of a family of five is not going to ride the train to get groceries and the grocery store will get it’s stock by truck, not LRT.
With the need established, the more realistic area of contention is the cost. It must be remembered, the need is not going away and the cost will not be going down over time. That said, the ballpark cost of $5 billion is a very large number. We need to break down and work out why it is in that range as much as we can before the province lays out more detailed information on this.
For a history of the ring road click here. The gentleman who created this blog has done a fantastic job of digging up and documenting the history of the road as well as reporting new developments on it. Considering it appears that the province’s first approach to the Tsuu T’ina band on this road was in 1947, there is a lot of history to cover.
The largest cost factor that differentiates the Southwest leg of the ring road from the rest of the segments is that the road goes through the Tsuu T’ina native reserve. This brought about a great deal of added costs as compensation for land and other factors came into the deal that other legs did not have to deal with. Dealing with potential burial grounds and other culturally sensitive issues arise on the reserve.
There are clauses in the agreement that guarantee some of the contracting on the construction of the road to the reserve. When working in the North, mandatory hiring of native contractors is usually part of our obligations in permits to work on crown land. The reasons why it costs so much more to use native contractors would be fodder for an entire series of blog postings. Be assured though that while native contractors can often do a fantastic job, they cost a great deal more than any other contractors tend to.
The ring road goes through the old artillery range of CFB Calgary. The clearing of the land of potential unexploded ordnance before construction is a huge and unique cost.
The Southwest ring road is in some environmentally sensitive areas that other legs of the road did not have to deal with. Crossing upstream of the Weaselhead area is one example as well as crossing smaller water bodies like Fish Creek.
The Southwest Ring Road includes:
- 26 km of six and eight-lane divided roadway
- 37 bridges
- Crossings of Elbow River and Fish Creek
- Rail flyover
- 13 interchanges:
- Westhills Way SW interchange
- Sarcee Trail SW interchange
- Old Strathcona Road SW interchange
- 90 Avenue SW interchange
- Anderson Road SW interchange
- 130 Avenue SW interchange
- 146 Avenue SW interchange
- 162 Avenue SW interchange
- Stoney Trail/Highway 22X systems interchange
- Spruce Meadows Way SW/James McKevitt Road SW interchange
- Sheriff King Street SW/6 Street SW partial interchange
- Macleod Trail SW interchange
As demonstrated above, this is a very large project with many unique costs and challenges.
It took two referendums and decades of negotiations to get an agreement with the Tsuu T’ina band to get this ring road going. Part of the agreement also says that if the province does not have this road going within 7 years of the land transfer, the deal will be void. There is no time to dither on this. We can’t navel-gaze and think about it for a few years now. It would take decades longer and unimaginable compensation to do this deal again if we break it with the Tsuu T’ina now.
I don’t know how much it would cost to simply break the agreement right now but be assured there is a clause that states we would be paying the Tsuu T’ina a great deal of money just to get out of the contract. Something that can’t be measured in dollars would be the lost faith and trust between the Tsuu T’ina band and the province/city. Trust is a limited commodity with First Nations as it is. Breaking new deals won’t exactly help.
One more thing that many folks are neglecting to mention is that the projected costs include 30 years of the maintenance of the ring road. The $5 billion is not simply for construction, it covers decades of maintenance that will be expensive under any circumstance.
It was irresponsible for Alberta Transportation to toss out what they now call a “ballpark” figure on the cost of the ring road. We need more detail before we can properly understand and absorb the costs associated with this critical piece of infrastructure. Having no detailed breakdown for the costs leaves room for opponents such as the Flakey Four to speculate and it is difficult to counter such unfounded speculations.
We need detailed costs and we need our provincial representatives to debate and work on these costs. There probably is room to reduce the cost of this project if we look closely enough. Let’s be clear though, the ring road is going ahead. To cancel the deal now simply is not a realistic option no matter what some inner-city councillors are dreaming.
Sideline the Flakey Four when it comes to further discussion on the ring road. They would oppose the project if it was 1/4 of the projected cost. Their issue is not with cost, it is with ideology and it always will be.
The ring road needs open and rational discussion and the place for it is in our legislature rather than city hall.