Nenshi calls Farkas/Colley-Urquhart motion to pause SW BRT a “terrible idea”

It’s one of the biggest issues freshman councillor Jeromy Farkas campaigned on, but Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says his plan to slow down the SW BRT project is a “terrible idea.”

“And I will fight it hard,” Nenshi said Tuesday, after Farkas released a statement on a notice of motion he’ll bring forward to council.

The notice, co-signed by veteran councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, requests administration not award tender to the second phase of the project in order to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

“I support thoughtfully planned and efficient transit for our city. It has to give the best service to users and provide value for money to taxpayers,” Farkas said. “The SWBRT project in its current form does neither.”

Construction has already begun on the massive project, which would shuttle riders to and from downtown to Mount Royal University, Rockyview General Hospital and Woodlands.

Farkas focuses on the Phase 2 stages of the underground bus tunnel at 90th Avenue and 14th St., the transit terminus in Woodbine and the dedicated bus lanes in front of Rockyview.

“Considering the budget for this project has more than doubled since it was approved, our struggling economic climate, the lack of proven ridership along the route, and the City facing a $170 million operating shortfall, it would be unwise to move ahead with this project,” Farkas said.

The transitway comes out of capital costs and not operating costs.

Nenshi said since Farkas campaigned on the issue, he deserves the opportunity to address council and he’s glad he’ll do so on Monday.

But Nenshi said this is part of the 30-year Route Ahead Plan in priority order and all economic reviews have been done.

“I heard it over and over again during the election, to get students and faculty and staff to Mount Royal University, to get staff and visitors to a major employment centre at Rockyview Hospital, to serve Heritage Park and ultimately to bring people from southwest Calgary downtown much quicker than their current system with no transfer,” he said.

Part of Farkas’ argument is that a pause would have no effect on the rest of the BRT network, but Nenshi disagrees with that too, saying the south Crosstowne BRT requires the SW BRT lanes to work.

“This motion to pause it is a motion to cancel and if you cancel the southwest BRT, you end up really crippling or cancelling the south Crosstowne one as well,” he said.

Putting all arguments aside, the big question is votes.

Since the motion would be a reconsideration of a previous council decision, it would need 10 votes to pass, not a simple majority.

“It would be hard for me to see a bunch of people changing their votes because I don’t see anything has changed on the project,” Nenshi said.

However, there is some precedent of changing minds, as the motion’s co-sponsor Colley-Urquhart originally backed the project.

“She does tend to change her mind and that’s okay, politicians can do that, I don’t know how much deeper the support goes from that,” he said.

Nenshi also warns of increasing construction costs if plans were to stop now and then revisited in the future.

If the motion fails, the mayor expects the tender could be awarded in a matter of days.

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