Calgary Herald

Airport tunnel delays costly

- JaSoN marKuSoFF

Every week the airport tunnel is delayed eats into the city’s budget by $500,000 to $1 million — and with the contract signed only last Thursday, the city’s head of transporta­tion said crews are already up to two weeks behind.

It’s the latest of many revelation­s about the project that have become public in the last two weeks after being kept secret, and even though there’s no turning back now, the tunnel’s council critics are growing louder.

A new report confirmed that the city is committed to $414.2 million for the tunnel and long-term road constructi­on to satisfy the airport authority’s demands. Last week, it had appeared to be only $411 million.

As skeptics listed off the delay costs and the insurance liability — premiums of roughly $1 million a year for decades — and the remote but real possibilit­y the airport could order the tunnel closed, Ald. Gord Lowe said the tunnel could become like the Pine Creek waste water treatment plant, which ballooned from $240 million to $430 million during the boom.

“We got into Pine Creek in a relatively calm time, went into a period of explosive growth and had significan­t overruns and had to change that project to keep it so the city could afford it,” Lowe said.

“There’s a huge financial risk to this, as far as I’m concerned.”

Council may have to upgrade other northeast roads as a backup plan in case the tunnel’s closure was demanded, Lowe added.

Excavation is expected to start within days, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi will do a ceremonial sod-turning in a week or so. The clerk’s office will unearth the tunnel contract for the public this morning.

This is Calgary’s largest civic road project in recent memory, and the contract stipulates that the tunnel structure be complete by August 2012 for the airport’s runway to be built atop it.

With that deadline, the city has set aside $27.5 million that would go to the airport authority for delay and project integratio­n — a figure that can only withstand so many of those costly weeks of delay.

“There’s nothing firm, but I do have a concern we’re probably a week or two behind already,” Logan told council.

Given the size and risks around the project, Logan will be regularly giving progress updates to aldermen.

In a glimmer of good news, the excavation tender came in below estimates by about $500,000, or eight per cent, Logan said.

Lowe and others have protested the tunnel project consumes the scarce dollars the city had for other infrastruc­ture projects. Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart previewed some of the problems council will hear about next month, when officials report the next 10-year transporta­tion constructi­on plan has shortfalls not seen since before the boom.

Council’s tunnel supporters, meanwhile, remain confident the project will stay on budget, and downplay the cost total that has bloated since February, when aldermen first approved the tunnel and Airport Trail extension for $294.8 million.

The cost escalation­s are for projects the airport is demanding, but many upgrades were already planned because of the residentia­l and business developmen­ts going up on farm fields, Ald. Richard Pootmans said.

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