More than 65 citizens presented their opinions on a controversial transit project in Calgary City Council chambers, in a meeting set to go well into Wednesday night. Calgary city planners finished their report to the transportation committee on the Southwest Transitway project earlier in the afternoon.
Those opposed to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) program are upset that the estimated cost escalated from $40 million to $65 million, according to an updated report from the city released last Friday. They held a noisy rally on the steps of city hall prior to the meeting. Several Calgary police officers were on hand monitoring the demonstration.
A rival citizens group, ILoveYYCTransit, were also at city hall rallying in favour of the project.
Inside council chambers, dozens of people listened to discussion on the project earlier Wednesday.
Groups rallied in opposition of the Southwest Transitway project at Calgary City Hall April 20, 2016. Gary Bobrovitz / Global News
Groups rallied in opposition of the Southwest Transitway project at Calgary City Hall April 20, 2016.
Gary Bobrovitz / Global News
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Mayor Naheed Nenshi was absent from the proceedings, travelling on business in Boston. But he previously had run-ins with Ready to Engage, one of the groups opposed to the project.
Nenshi decided to cancel all open houses in February due to what he described as a death threat against a city worker and bullying of various staff members from the group. Calgary police subsequently investigated and determined no cause for charges.
READ MORE: Nenshi cancels Southwest Transitway open houses amid alleged death threat, bullying
But Ready to Engage members have said the group wasn’t doing anything wrong, and shouldn’t be portrayed negatively by the mayor.
“So our message, basically, to the elected officials, is there’s a big difference between wants and needs, and the mayor does not seem to be able to distinguish between those two,” Ready to Engage spokesperson Alan Hallman said Wednesday. “This Southwest Transitway is going to be a $100-million mammoth waste of taxpayers’ dollars at a time when we think city council should be tightening the belt.”
The ILoveYYCTransit emphasized it’s important all citizens are talking about it and communicating their thoughts to city councillors.
“There’s so many groups that are that engaged,” spokesperson Jennifer Burgess said. “But I think we need to make sure the conversation is about making public transit stronger in Calgary and not holding projects back.”
Wednesday’s meeting involves a recommendation to the city transportation committee. A final decision on the project must still come before city council, likely next month.
With files from Global’s Erika Tucker