Calgarians Deserve Details on Swollen Project Prices

Media Appearances, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

It has been a pretty quiet fall surrounding city hall.

Not that there hasn't been a lot going on inside council chambers, but with internecine conflict being waged under the dome at the legislature in Edmonton, this fall's municipal dealings felt a little overshadowed.

Which, I'm sure, was an early Christmas present for many seeking re-election.

After all, don't want too much pressure on you when you're debating property tax hikes in the neighbourhood of 5-6%, and wasting time on shark fin soup.

Not to say they weren't roundly criticized for it, but the Danielle and Alison show seemed to draw more people's attention.

One thing that did draw a lot of public attention this fall was the completion of the West LRT line.

Many happy aldermen and commuters turned out to see this $1.4-billion project hit the rails for the first time.

Going into the new year, we would like to see a little more attention paid to the project, preferably in the form of a proper accounting of how that money was spent.

Originally pitched to the public by former mayor Dave Bronconnier as a $700-million line, the final tally, at nearly double that amount, bears a deep once over.

Now, the city has said the difference in cost from the original price tag was the addition of several separate costs, interchanges, a tunnel, property purchases and so on.

Fair ball, but would the project have been seen in the same light had the price tag been pitched with some of those factored in up front?

That wasn't a number that was made public until late into 2010, with a Rick Bell column Sept. 3 of that year saying "When pressed, all they offer up on the west leg of the LRT's tab is 'it's in the ballpark of $1 billion.'"

Design changes through the process, like the reconstruction of Bow Tr., helped add millions to the price tag. And instead of saving money on the project, the city opted to add a $61-million underpass at 45 St. S.W.

The cost of dealing with property owners surely didn't help, either.

On the 16 Ave. widening project, expropriation costs more than quadrupled. It would be nice to see a tally of all the property purchases on the West LRT.

Whatever the process for tallying up a $1.4-billion bill, the West LRT still ranks as an insanely costly project, at $190 million per kilometre of track, or $42,000 and change per estimated daily rider according to a review done by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

And despite being close to the planned $1.4 billion, even though we weren't told that was the plan, there was still a $35 million overrun.

That's not to mention the fact the city still came up $8 million short for the requisite public art, with transit going hat in hand to council asking for more coin, so the shortfall, one could argue is more like $43 million.

That may not seem like a lot in a $1.4-billion project, but we are always told the city is already pinching every penny, using every dollar wisely.

Does a $43 million gap seem like that's the case?

For that reason alone it warrants a look over by the city auditor.

Hopefully its inclusion on the city's 2013 audit risk assessment priority list means we'll have some answers. And sooner rather than later.