Alberta Budget 2023: Calgary gets cash for Blue Line airport extension

The budget “signals from the provincial government … that they’re interested in partnering with us,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek

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There were few big surprises for Calgary in Tuesday’s provincial budget, which saw the city receive about $2 billion in funding commitments.

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While it wasn’t the largest line item, the province committed more money toward the idea of an airport LRT link.

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Premier Danielle Smith floated the idea of connecting the city’s airport to the LRT during her first month in office, when she wrote a letter to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

City administration already has a plan for connecting the airport to both the Blue Line and the Green Line. The Blue Line plan would have a spur line running east to connect at a yet-unbuilt 88 Avenue N.E. station.

In the budget, the province committed $5 million in grant money for engineering work needed to extend the Blue Line north.

In 2020, an Airport Transit Line Study found building the spur line east would cost between $400 million and $800 million, not counting the needed Blue Line extension. The 88th Avenue Station would be the next stop past the existing terminus at Saddletowne station.

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Gondek pleased with transportation funding, disappointed by lack of money put toward downtown revitalization

This money will play at least a small role in getting the extension built. Gondek called it a good signal from the province.

“That’s what I’m getting from this budget package,” said the mayor. “It signals from the provincial government that they have purpose and that they’re interested in partnering with us on some of the projects that we think really serve our mandates.”

Gondek said she was disappointed not to see money for the city’s downtown revitalization strategy, which received $5 million in last year’s budget. She said requests for post-secondary funding and for fieldhouse funding also went unanswered.

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Some big-ticket items noted in the budget included $541 million over three years for Calgary LRT projects, $429.7 million over three years for Deerfoot Trail upgrades, $282 million over three years for the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir Project, and $134.2 million over three years to complete the Calgary Ring Road.

None of those line items were unexpected, as money had previously been committed for those projects.

Other Calgary line items included $9.5 million for the Telus Spark Science Centre, announced Monday, $3 million to plan the North Calgary/Airdrie Regional Health Centre, $15 million over three years for the Repsol Sport Centre and a $7.5 million capital grant for the WinSport day lodge renovation.

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Calgary not getting preferential treatment: Alberta finance minister

Speaking to reporters before the budget was tabled in the legislature, Finance Minister Travis Toews said while it may look like Calgary is getting more funding than Edmonton in an election year, the decisions on which projects to fund were made in a fair way.

“(Projects) have a ranking based on safety, they certainly have a ranking based on readiness,” he said. “All of those factors are considered when the Treasury Board makes the final decisions around the capital plans.”

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Toews said in any budget, it may look like one region is getting more investment, but it’s all part of the process.

The mayor agreed that this did not feel like an election budget to her.

“If I was trying to win votes, I’d be pumping a whole lot of money into the place I was trying to win votes from,” said Gondek. “This is not that. This is a budget that indicates some pretty clear signals about projects that they believe in.”

Initiative to build and repair local priorities sees significant index bump

The budget also contained more details on how the province will direct funding to municipalities.

Since 2007, municipalities have relied on provincial funding through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) to build and repair key local priorities including roads, bridges, utilities, transit projects and sport facilities.

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Originally a 10-year program, MSI was extended through 2023, but now the province is shifting to a new program called the Local Government Fiscal Framework.

While the MSI program was indexed to provincial revenues at a 50 per cent rate, the new program will be indexed at 100 per cent. The budget document says this increase in indexing will make municipalities “full partners in Alberta’s economic fortunes.”

There would be a three-year lead time, so cities and municipalities will be aware of any dips well in advance and could plan accordingly.

Gondek said she welcomed the potential for increased funding.

“I see it as a positive if we’re indexed up so that we are benefiting from the growth that we see in the province,” she said. “It is actually a good news story.”

[email protected]
Twitter: @brodie_thomas

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