Alderman digging up support for tunnel

The gophers that are currently the sole inhabitants of acres of landnorth of the Calgary International Airport have the right idea, saysnortheast Ald. Jim Stevenson.

The gophers that are currently the sole inhabitants of acres of land north of the Calgary International Airport have the right idea, says northeast Ald. Jim Stevenson.

The burrowing varmints have long used the deserted fields to build vast warrens of tunnels.

Stevenson says the city needs to build just one.

A planning battle that has simmered at city hall for more than a year over a future subterranean extension of Airport Trail had one of its most important showdowns last week.

And the rookie alderman believes he scored a victory after his council colleagues agreed during marathon Plan-It Calgary debates to keep plans for the airport tunnel in the city’s transportation scheme.

“The cost of us not doing it now would be huge,” said Stevenson.

“Right now all we’ve got is a lot of gophers living up there — if that area was already built out this would be automatic.”

The plan seems simple enough — until the question of who will pay for it comes up.
City administration has pegged the price tag at $394 million.

Stevenson says for just $200 million the city can dig the tunnel and worry about three future interchanges as what is expected to be a massive industrial hub develops in the area.

In hopes of convincing the feds and the province to ante up, council has committed $50 million and hopes to get similar sums out of Edmonton and Ottawa.

The real trick will be convincing the Calgary Airport Authority, which has long opposed any alterations to its $3-billion expansion plan, to chip in for a quarter of the project.

There’s the rub.

As public debate on the city’s 60-year Plan-It Calgary document got underway early last week, airport authority CEO Garth Atkinson repeated what has become a familiar refrain — no money here, look elsewhere.

And the clock is ticking with airport officials aiming to start construction of a $50-million runway in 2011, under which the tunnel would have to be built.

But not unlike a determined gopher trying to cross a busy highway, Stevenson is determined to dig in.

“This city has got a reputation of reacting to growth but we’ve got to plan for it,” he said. “If we don’t do it now, in 15 to 20 years Calgarians will be shaking their heads and asking what the hell were we thinking.”

 
 
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