The new CEO of the $5.5-billion Green Line said that conditions beneath downtown Calgary aren't ideal but they shouldn't derail the construction of a new CTrain tunnel.
Darshpreet Bhatti was hired as the new public face of the megaproject last summer.
His responsibilities include ensuring the City of Calgary has good relations with stakeholders along the Green Line route and with contractors who will design and build the project.
One of the first things he did after moving from the Toronto area to Calgary was to pore over the work already completed in preparation for the eventual construction of the Green Line.
Concerns have been raised by Green Line opponents in recent years about the technical challenges of building a two-kilometre CTrain tunnel under the city's downtown core.
His conclusion: the tunnel can be built.
"The soil conditions in downtown Calgary are not the most ideal for the type of work we need to do, so we have to be cognizant of those risks and manage them carefully," said Bhatti.
However, he doesn't believe there's any legitimate reason that the underground portion of the line should not go ahead.
"I don't think that there's anything that's raised a flag to me to suggest that the construction is not even viable."
Always challenges in construction
As with any major project, Bhatti said there are the known challenges, but inevitably unknown ones will crop up as well.
Technical experts have not ruled out using a tunnel boring machine to help build the underground portion of the line. However in some areas it is expected that the more conventional "cut and cover" method will be used.
That involves opening up the ground and constructing a concrete tunnel, which will then be covered over.
Calgary used the same method in the 1970s to build the LRT tunnel beneath Cemetery Hill.
The downtown tunnel will stretch from the transit bus barn in Victoria Park though the Beltline, under the Canadian Pacific Railway mainline and below Second Street S.W. before the line emerges in Eau Claire.
He said public communication will be key because this will be a major inconvenience in the core.
"We're basically doing open heart surgery in the downtown of a major metropolitan city and disruption will come," said Bhatti.
Experience on big projects
An engineer, Bhatti moved to Calgary from Ontario, where he worked on a couple of LRT projects in recent years.
That included working for Metrolinx as vice-president of the Hurontario LRT line in Brampton/Mississauga, and before that, he worked on the LRT/bus rapid transit project in the Waterloo region.
His new job is to deliver the Green Line.
"Overall, I am accountable, making sure that all aspects of the project are moving forward, so that we're delivering on this mandate and the future phases of the project," said Bhatti.
A member of city council, Gian-Carlo Carra, said council is looking forward to working with the new CEO.
He said council will not be micromanaging the development of the Green Line now that the alignment has been approved.
Carra, who chairs council's infrastructure and planning committee, said Bhatti and the Green Line board have the authority to oversee the successful delivery of the project.
But there will still be regular updates on the Green Line, which will come through council's new executive committee.
"I call the Green Line the backbone of Calgary's best future, and he's in charge of delivering a backbone that will stand and that will support our best future," said Carra.
"So I would say that there is a lot that rests of Mr. Bhatti's shoulders."
Contract for LRT cars
A major contract announcement for the Green Line is expected soon.
After months of preparation, the city will unveil the winning bidder that will build several dozen new LRT cars that will be used exclusively on the Green Line.
The procurement process for determining who will build the LRT line itself was forced to restart following a lengthy negotiation with the provincial government on funding for the project.
The Green Line board says $675 million has been spent on the project already, primarily for land acquisition, engineering work as well as preparation work along the alignment for construction.
Bhatti estimates it could take until the fall of 2023 or early 2024 before main construction on the Green Line begins.