Seems that there was a technical problem keeping the article from being posted online, so we've posted the full test after the jump.
Come with me to the new McKnight-Westwinds C-train station, a lovely place, built on a human scale. No giant stairs to negotiate, really magnificent public art that reflects the neighbourhood.
From here, looking northwest, on a clear day we can make out the airport terminal, across bare land which will one day be a new runway. Rather than planning to extend the C-train in that direction, it’s going to turn its back on the airport and move further northeast into Saddleridge.
There is an excellent question, by the way, about why that alignment cuts through the right through people’s backyards in wonderful neighbourhood, Martindale, and there is no discussion of burying this portion, but that’s a topic for another day.
More important is ensuring access to the airport, both by car and LRT. Barlow Trail north of McKnight will be closed soon, and the plan has always been to connect Airport Trail from the new East Freeway to the airport and Deerfoot, tunneling under the new runway where Barlow used to be.
Recently, the new alderman for the area, Jim Stevenson, learned that John Hubbell, the city’s transportation boss, sent a letter to the Airport Authority a year ago, abandoning plans for the tunnel.
For a variety of reasons – maybe the shocking incompetence of the previous alderman, Helene Larocque, a general apathy to the northeast, or a desire not to think about how much money the tunnel might cost – no one did anything about this. No other alderman took up the fight, the mayor didn’t say a word – if he was even told – and the transportation department didn’t seem to tell the planning department.
This is a very big deal. 18,000 people work at the airport and surrounding lands, and a very large chunk of them live in the northeast. (We are, after all, as a city, encouraging people to live near where they work.) Let’s just conservatively say that one-third of them are commuting from the east side of the airport for 6,000 round trips a day.
A little messing with Google Maps shows that the distance from Coral Springs to the airport using the new tunnel would be about 12 km or a 15 minute drive. Without the tunnel, this drive becomes a 24 minute commute via Country Hills Boulevard, or only 20 minutes on Deerfoot, but an additional 5 km.
May not sound like much, but when you do the math, it means we are looking at an additional 60,000 km per day on our already-congested road network, or an additional 1000 person-hours per day wasted.
As Alderman Stevenson is fond of saying, it would be as though Macleod Trail had no exits between City Hall and Heritage Drive, and everyone going to Lindsay Park, Chinook Centre, the Stampede Grounds and all the neighbourhoods in between would have to circle around Heritage to get there.
It would be even better if these folks could take the LRT to work. Most discussion of transit links to the airport focuses on travelers, but it’s even more important for commuters. While the airport’s long-range plan focuses on building an expensive people-mover to connect to a proposed north-centre LRT line, this is an incomplete solution at best. Even if it’s built in our lifetimes (unlikely) it won’t help workers at all. Who would go from Martindale all the way downtown to come all the way back up to the airport?
The proposed tunnel must include an LRT right-of-way for a future spur of the NE line. Indeed, including the LRT in the proposal could even bring some federal government money to the table.
No one save Stevenson looks good in all of this – the airport authority told the city a tunnel would cost an astronomical $450 to $500 million before sheepishly admitting that this number included three interchanges as well. Even after the transportation department said no, the planning department and Council merrily continued to approve area plans that include the tunnel, and developers have committed millions assuming that their projects would have easy access to the airport and lands west.
Stevenson, who estimates the cost to be more like $50 – 150 million depending on design, was hung out to dry by the city administration and his fellow councilors, who told him to go find the money on his own – a pretty big step for a rookie alderman.
This would be funny if it weren’t so deadly serious.
Once that runway is built, we will never have the chance to connect east Calgary to the airport, nor to extend the NE LRT there. If we don’t solve this now, generations to follow will regret what we failed to do.
Naheed Nenshi, instructor of Nonprofit Studies at Mount Royal’s Bissett School of Business, volunteers with the Better Calgary Campaign (www.bettercalgary.ca).