Much of the mayoral campaign so far has been about wanting — or not wanting — to dig a big hole.
The proposed — and as yet unfunded — Airport Trail tunnel is touted as an alternate access to the Calgary International Airport after Barlow Trail closes from McKnight Boulevard to Airport Trail in 2012 to make way for a new runway. The proposed tunnel would extend Airport Trail from Barlow to 36 Street NE underneath the new runway.
City council this year voted to include the tunnel in their long-range plan, then voted against providing cash for its construction.
The problem is, the price of the building a tunnel after the runway is built is estimated to be double or triple the cost.
Enter candidates looking for divisive issues, and the airport tunnel makes for great campaign fodder.
Almost all candidates — chief among them being Ric McIver, Naheed Nenshi and Craig Burrows — say build the tunnel now, while Bob Hawkesworth appears to be lone dissenting voice. Estimates to build the tunnel now are pegged at between $350 million and $500 million. Some say it can be done for $150 million.
But what would we get for this price? Sure, a tunnel — but what benefit does a tunnel give us?
If you live outside the NE of Calgary, the quickest airport route already is Airport Trail via Deerfoot, so this debate is a moot point for you.
Barlow Trail is closing regardless of whether the tunnel is built and its closure only affects those who previously used that route.
How much time would be saved for this portion of the population by building a tunnel?
Without the tunnel, their quickest access would be to drive north to Country Hills Boulevard. If 36 Street were connected, the added time on this trip, versus having a more direct tunnel, would be a total of six minutes.
Calgary Transit is working on a plan to deliver BRT service from McKnight/Westwinds LRT station that will also provide additional service to the airport — with a similar six minutes extra on the commute.
In my mind, the question to candidates and voters is this: Is the cost of building an airport tunnel, whether it be $350 million or three times that, worth keeping cars off of Country Hills Boulevard, decreasing the travel time for those living in the affected portion of the NE by six minutes, and ensuring that a future LRT connection will have to come from a more northern LRT station than McKnight?
Each voter can decide on their own.
But be sure you tell the candidates what you decide.