Friday, January 20, 2012

CANADA: Airport tunnel tab flies past $500M (with video)

By Rick Bell ,QMI Agency

Now we have a number.

It’s over half a billion bucks for the airport tunnel and all the other work needed on Airport Tr. since the tunnel has been green-lighted by city council.

The number is, so say the city brass, “preliminary in nature.” There will be updates soon and often and in time the dollars will no doubt inflate.

For now, it’s about $528 million.

And the city can’t cover $200 million-plus of the tab unless the feds or province throw into the beggar bowl or council sometime in the future heads to the bank and borrows.

The $3.3 billion in dough the province turned over to Calgary for building projects until 2018 is all gone.

That cupboard is bare.

To take a trip down memory lane, almost a year ago, council thumbs-upped the airport tunnel and pledged $294.8 million for the east-west tunnel on Airport Tr. running from Barlow Tr. to 36 St. N.E. under a new airport runway along with roadway improvements.

But turning Airport Tr. into an east-west expressway costs.

Interchanges at Barlow Tr. and 19 St. N.E. and ramps to and from the airport terminal are pegged at $77 million for the city’s share.

Future interchanges on Airport Tr. at 36 St. N.E. and Metis Tr. and 60 St. N.E. add up to $132 million excluding the land cost.

Future roads east of the tunnel and buying land for interchanges ring in at about $24 million.

There is also a $42 million roadway being built on 96 Ave. N.E., what Airport Tr. is called west of Deerfoot, going from Harvest Hills Link N.E. to Deerfoot Tr. and a $3-million two-lane stretch of Airport Tr. already open between 60 St. N.E. and Stoney Tr.

The last council covered the budgeting for them.

In the report, the city higher-ups say this airport tunnel and Airport Tr. scheme will reduce travel time for airport terminal workers.

They say the tunnel will “significantly reduce vehicle travel times in the vicinity of the airport” and “congestion along Country Hills Blvd. N.E. is anticipated to be reduced.”

In a report the city paper shufflers cooked up earlier this year, they said if the city didn’t go for the tunnel and motorists went around the airport runway — by travelling northbound on 36 St. N.E. and using Country Hills Blvd. and Barlow Tr. — the travel time is roughly five to eight minutes extra.

Of course, under former mayor Dave Bronconnier the city didn’t go for the Airport Tr. tunnel and extension because of cost since the half-billion figure was being discussed.

The deep thinkers at the city transportation department told the airport people “an eastward extension of Airport Tr. was not an essential component of an effective long-term city road network” though they now say it “will advance the city-wide road network.”

With a new mayor dedicated to the tunnel and some new aldermen on board it all changed.

A much lower number, the cost of the tunnel alone, was the dollar figure most in the public eye.

And council made a decision when a whole lot of Calgarians had no idea where the tunnel was even going.

A lot of taxpayers also believed it was all about getting to the airport faster for all Calgarians rather than about an east-west expressway in the northeast.

Ald. Gord Lowe, Bronco’s budget boss and still a guy asking plenty of questions, pushed this past November to get the best numbers the city bosses could nail down.

He simply wanted to know the cost when everything is built.

“We’re now in the ballpark and it’s a hell of a big wakeup,” speaking of the $528 million he agrees is the number as we both navigate through a confusing city document.

You can tell the longtime alderman feels some vindication.

“This report validates the numbers we had when we decided we weren’t going to do it. We looked at the price tag and the benefits and they didn’t match.”

Defenders of the tunnel say the $132 million in interchanges east of the tunnel are in the future and another council’s headache.

Lowe says the taxpayer remains the same and Job One is simple.

Council has to come up with a plan to find dough beyond the usual wishful thinking and predictions of pots of gold.

“The implication for the Calgary taxpayer is immense,” he says. 

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