May 31, 2021
Minister of Transportation
My name is Shaoli Wang, I am a geologist and a concerned citizen of Calgary, writing this letter in an attempt to clarify the issues and risks involved in Calgary's current Green Line project.
I understand that Alberta Transportation has been working with the Calgary Green Line Board since late 2020, and you had issued a December 14, 2020 letter to Mr. Fairbairn, Chair of Calgary Green Line Board, to ensure taxpayers are protected, in the letter, you raised the following concerns:
The primary conclusion is that the Green Line project is at high risk of running severely over budget for three key reasons: (1) the full scope and nature of costs, including contingencies, are underestimated; (2) the city's approach to procurement means that the extent of potential coat overruns will not be known until some contracts have already been awarded; and (3) decisions on timing are driven by political considerations, not technical or commercial concerns.
You opined that theGreen Line is not a functional transit project in its current form and requested ridership, cost estimates, risk reports, and contingency analysis from the Green Line Board.
On May 19, 2021, several concerned citizens including me attended the Green Line Committee Meeting and raised many concerns.
As of today, none of your concerns or citizens' concerns have been addressed. It is by no means responsible or respectful, and only to have all my concerns aggravated to such a level that I feel the need to write to you, raise my concerns our City failed to answer, ask for your help to protect Calgarians and Calgary from our City's mismanagement.
May I please list my concerns hereunder:
The city claims that the Green Line First Stage will serve 65,000 LRT customers a day, and saves 10,000 hours a day.
That means 23.7million ridership per year or 22% of riders of the whole city. To save 5 minutes each over BRT, every one of these riders would need to take a full-length trip, still, only 5400 hours could be saved.
With no value to waste 8 minutes to change from a bus to Green Line at 16th avenue North when going downtown which takes only 5 minutes on board a bus, I would not expect the north of Downtown part of this Green Line first stage worth much other than occupying half of the centre street and mess up the traffic all along.
With only 7% of the City's population on the Green Line's south part, the 22% ridership of the whole city is unrealistic.
A decent estimate would be 15,000 ridership and save up to 600 hours a day.
1) Net ridership
The city claims that the Green Line First Stage will save 30,000 tons of Greenhouse gas emissions a year:
With vehicles of an average consumption of 5 liters/100 km, that will need 17,123 drivers to walk out of their vehicles and take a full Green Line round trip every day, which means 12.5 million new ridership. And that will be a 12% increase from the 2019 city of Calgary ridership level.
Calgary's population increased 11% between 2013 and 2019. Ridership dropped 1% during the same time, which means we may not simply estimate ridership based on population, Chart 1.
Chart 1. City of Calgary transit ridership, registered vehicle, and population growth between 1998 and 2019. Transit rider by Revenue: Per adult transit fare-based ridership calculated from annual transit revenue.
Based on the pre-pandemic history, a decent estimate would be that a net increase of ridership may not necessarily happen any time soon. Should the unknown impact of the pandemic be considered, a post-pandemic scenario might only be discouraging regarding transit ridership.
2) 2020 Population
The city estimated 2020 population with a 1.6% increase and metro Calgary with a 0.3% decrease. While every town estimated their 2020 population with an increase, averages 5.6%: Cochrane estimated 9.3%, Airdrie 7.3%, Okotoks 4.4%, Chestermere 2.5%, High River, 1.5%, Strathmore, 1.7%.
If the City of Calgary's estimate was correct, then the suburb area's population would be a 9.6% decrease.
If the suburb's estimate and City of Calgary's metro Calgary population decrease of 0.3% were correct, then the City of Calgary's population would be a 1.1% decrease.
Something is not right, and only the 2021 census will tell.
3) Impact of Downtown conversion from office tower into apartments
The downtown office has an inventory of 42.3 million SF, the vacancy rate is 30.97%, the vacant area is 13.1 million SF.
The city of Calgary is planning to convince owners to convert those vacant office buildings into apartments with $450 million incentives.
With an estimate of 77% convertible, that will be 10.09 million SF.
To convert them into 600 SF units with 80% leasable space, it will be 13,449 units.
With a 90% occupancy rate and an average of 1.5 adults moving into those apartments who have a 90% employment rate and 80% working downtown, their commute will decrease by 250 days per year, and that will be 7.26 million less ridership per year or 6.8% of the city of Calgary's 2019 ridership level.
With a decent job in downtown, people would be able to enjoy life with a detached home.
I will not expect drivers to dump their vehicles so that to move downtown simply because if they are working there.
2. cost estimates
1) Basic Cost:
If we have the Blue Line west's cost of $182 million/km in mind, the Green Line first stage's cost of the above-ground part of 17.5 km would be estimated at $3.185b.
If we refer to San Francisco Central Subway & Los Angeles Purple Line Extension for their $930 million cost per mile or CAD 740 million per km, the Green Line first stage's tunnel cost would be estimated at $1.85b. With 4 stations close by, the extra cost on stations will add another 0.8km cost of $0.592b, the total cost estimate is $5.627b.
2) Contingency analysis:
Jan. 2020 to Jan. 2021 saw an annual increase of: Iron and steel 15.6%, Iron & steel scrap 45.7%, Steel mill products 7.4%, Softwood lumber 73%, Particleboard & OSB 62.5%. Due to the pandemic, travel and health care cost also increased dramatically.
A 20% increase of the cost should be confirmed if the City could release their information, and that will raise the cost to $6.752b.
3) Risk allowance:
The tunnel portion of the Green Line locates on an alluvial terrace, the shallow part of 6 - 15m is alluvial gravels, the middle part is a pre-glacial channel filled with fine-grained silt and clay sediments, the deeper part is Paskapoo Formation consists of weak sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone.
Geological challenges are illustrated in a paper published in 2014, "Geotechnique in Calgary -- A 60-year retrospective", Heinrich K. Heinz, Mauricio Pinheiro Thurber Engineering Ltd., Calgary, Alberta, Canada Tai T. Wong, SAIT Polytechnic, School of Construction, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, GEO Regina, 2014.
"It is interesting to note that the silt and clay unit are shown on Figure 1 sometimes displays a very high silt content (around 90% silt has been measured), and is essentially cohesionless. Silt horizons below the groundwater table can run through the timber lagging boards of conventional soldier pile walls, creating significant loss of ground. Such was the case during the 1987 excavation of the east Bankers Hall tower underground parkade, where the shoring walls tilted, a crane toppled and cracks formed along 9th Avenue SW (Osborn and Rajewicz, 1998). This resulted in extensive litigation, which was finally resolved in 1998, with a judgment in favour of the geotechnical engineers and the shoring contractor (Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta, Action No. 8901-05540, February 13th, 1998)."
Gravels are geologically one of the costliest for tunnel drilling, permeable water-saturated gravels will increase the cost, and moveable silt and sand in weak sediments which are unlithified may pose huge risks to the construction and maintenance of the tunnel.
A 50% cost increase of the tunnel will not be higher than a medium risk estimate, which will add $0.9b, and the Green Line First Stage's total cost should be $7.652b.
As this risk is engineeringly obvious, the extra cost of $0.9b does not fall fully into risk allowance, a big part of it should be added into contingency cost instead.
4) The rest 26 km of Green Line cost and Green Line full cost
Estimated with the Blue Line West's cost, the rest 26km will cost $4.732b, contingency cost will be $0.946b, subtotal $5.678b, and the Green Line total cost will be $13.33b.
Should both federal and provincial funding of $1.53b be provided, Calgarians' direct share will be $10.27b, or $20,484 per household based on the 501,365 households we had in 2019.
3. The city claimed that the Green Line will lay a foundation for future connection to Calgary International Airport
As false as it claims which says that there will be BRT connecting the Airport with the Green Line, and that said, there will be no LRT to the airport for long.
4. The City estimated that the Green Line First Stage project will create 20,000 jobs
The 2.5 km tunnel plus 4 stations will cost $3.83 billion other than the estimated $1.95b, 70% of the $5.5b budget, and this part of the project will be provided to foreign companies, which means 70% jobs. In another word, it means all the $3.06b, or $3.34b as the City recently alleged, funding from Government of Canada and Government of Alberta will be paid out to foreign companies.
How many of the rest 6,000 jobs could be provided to Calgarians is yet to be known.
5. Transit Annual Fiscal Gap Per Capita
Calgary's annual transit fiscal gap was $147 per capita in 2010, it had since increased 125% in 2019 and reached $331 per capita. Should the Green Line first stage been built, City estimates an $80 million annual operation cost, with no apparent increase in ridership as Chart 1 shows, that will likely be fully added to the annual fiscal gap and that alone may increase the annual transit fiscal gap to $393 per capita.
6. Green Line Affordability
The pandemic's impact is not fully understood yet. When we plan for tomorrow, I would like to take the position that tomorrow can be positive and can be negative, especially so when we are in a crisis with an unknown impact.
I would believe none of our 536 families listed on this Mid Pandemic Tax Sale of May 31, 2021, would be ready to pay their Green Line share should they have their homes saved.
And few, if any, of our 55,000 families who were unable to pay our 2020 property tax, would be ready to pay their share, should they have their homes saved from mortgage companies.
As to those many of us who also got hit hard by this pandemic, another painful number might be on the way.
I took the onus on the May 19 Green Line Committee meeting and asked the city to please halt this Green Line so that to save our 55,000 families already on the hook and cancel the Tax Sale on May 31, 2021. No answer was provided.
To our 90,000 southeast community residents, I understand that they may have waited for this Green Line for over 20 years, but I would ask them to please think of our 160,000 fellow Calgarians struggling in this crisis, and see if we can wait 5 more years?
7. Did the province overtax Calgarians?
Calgary's mayor and councils had repeatedly complained that the province raised education taxes for Calgarians and that those taxes go to the province.
Hereunder are charts that show the per capita property tax growth between 1998 and 2019. City of Calgary's provincial property tax per capita increased by 45% from $423 to $614 (Chart 2), 4% lower than the inflation of the same period of 49% (Chart 3). While municipal property tax per capita increased by 134% from $607 to $1,420 (Chart 2), 85% higher than inflation (Chart 3).
Chart 2. City of Calgary annual per capita property tax, municipal vs. provincial, between 1998 and 2019.
Chart 3. City of Calgary per capita property tax growth rate, municipal vs. provincial vs. inflation, between 1998 and 2019.
It is obvious which part of the property tax has hiked. Before blaming others, it is always good to check into the mirror first, and a false allegation can be hurtful and should be.
8. Are we in a crisis?
Calgary is not a place for beach-lovers, is not a place for planting-lovers, it is a city for work, most of us come here for a job. While our economy had been more fluctuant than others for decades, mostly beyond our city and even the province's control. There were good times and bad times.
During the good times, we had proudly spoiled our municipal government, applauded every of their spending projects, and bullheaded for-future plans, none of those had any budget control, none of those budget overruns had ever held anyone accountable.
Here we are, 6 years deep into the recession, only to be caught by a once-in-a-century global pandemic. While our municipal headstrong spenders are not gaining any sense of crisis yet, still pushing every of their spending projects vigorously forward, mindfully libelling everyone who dares to blow a whistle.
9. Do we have a chance?
Luckily, we have our Minister McIver on guard and halted the city's current immature Green Line that had since saved us a chance to turn the city back on track.
There is only that much offer one can expect from a government by angel, the rest of the burden would have to be carried upon our own shoulders, and we rely on this coming election to catch it.
As more companies are able to home anywhere in the world in recent years, and due to tax and policing failures, even the world's best cities, like L. A. are losing people and companies already. Those who attracted those people and companies away from L. A. become the cities that deemedto be leart from by us.
Some of the leaders of those companies shared their thoughts for their relocation angrily: one is cost, includes property tax and utility cost which are in the City's hands, living costs in both the City and the province's hands, and income tax. The other is policing or social security which falls mostly in the City's hands.
What we as a city must do now, I would believe, is to cut the City's spending and protect essential services, so that to lower municipal property taxes; And also, to improve our policing which might be another huge topic.
Calgary is the engine of Alberta, we cannot let us be a burden of the province, we cannot risk the city and drag the province deeper into this recession we are already deeply in. A project like the current Green Line plan is not a fit for our economy, not now, not in the foreseeable future. We must act responsibly, cooperate with the provincial government respectfully so that to add our talent and effort positively together so that to bring the city back on track and lead the province out of the jungle.
10. A citizen's liability
Due to the City's persistent failure to respond to your respectful and responsible request, and false allegation against the province's property tax increase and the professional review of the city's Green Line plan, the City, its Green Line Board, and Green Line Committee have collectively failed their credibility if any and aggravated in a disturbing and humiliating way by fully ignoring the immense impact of this global pandemic.
As it happened that I am aware of the huge risks they have since posed to the people of Calgary, the City of Calgary, and the province of Alberta, I would believe, I, as a responsible citizen, am legally liable to raise the concerns and alert on a public interest standing basis.
I would thus ask honorable Minister Ric McIver to please take the province's promise of $1.53 billion funding to the Green Line back so that to stop these bullheaded unaccountable blind optimists from taking the province's caring offer as an unconditional liability and pushing the Green Line stubbornly forward without any tangible plan.
Should the City of Calgary, Mayor of Calgary, Councils of Calgary, Calgary Green Line Board, or Calgary Green Line Committee feel unable to agree with the above of my concerns at any point, I would respectfully ask honorable Minister Ric McIver to please invite them to have a debate with me. I would love to answer any questions they might raise and would hope my questions can be answered in the same manner.