Recently, during a round of golf the banter turned to politics and the need for the government to rethink how they approach capital projects. Perhaps we don’t need to always have the Cadillac (or perhaps in today’s world the Audi or BMW) model for our mega projects. As I like to say in golf after a decent drive that has landed close to the fairway, “good enough!” We don’t have to build the best of everything – best roads, best transit, best recreation centers, best hospitals, best pedestrian bridges etc. etc. Sometimes “good enough” is perfectly okay!
One of the foursome told me in confidence that an independent review of the SW Ring Road conducted by an experienced engineering and construction specialists came back with an estimate of $3.5 billion (including the payments and transfers to the Tsuu Tina) versus the $5 billion originally quoted by the province. if changes were made to the design of the interchanges, the amount of land being used and the way it was being financed. Yes, a $1.5 billion dollar savings for basically the same result.
Then we got talking about the Tom Baker Cancer Clinic and the difference between the projected $500M cost to build it at the South Health Campus versus the cost of $1.3B to build it at Foothills Hospital site. We were both in agreement this was a no brainer. If you can save $800M, why not do it?
Think about what $800M would buy!
We immediately thought of southeast Bus Rapid Transit, (connecting communities in southeast communities to downtown) which is estimated to cost about $800M or the upgrade to full LRT status. This would provide Calgarians with rapid transit access to the South Health Campus and a new Cancer Clinic, something which doesn’t exist at the Foothills Medical Centre campus.
We both laughed and thought this is how we do our budgeting at home when we need to balance the need for three major projects - home improvements, new car and a vacation. We don’t build an addition to the house but renovate the basement to get another bedroom. We don’t get the BMW, but the Honda. And we opt for a one-week vacation in Canada versus a two-week in Hawaii. We make compromises and accept the sacrifices.
Do the math!
If I am doing the math correct, this means that for $5 billion dollars we could build not only the SW section of the ring road, but the Cancer Clinic AND the SE bus rapid transit instead of just one mega Cadillac project.
3.5 Basic designed SW section of the Ring Road .5 Cancer Hospital at South Health Campus .8 SE Bus Rapid Transit or upgrade to LRT 4.8 Total Cost of three mega projects
Governments at all levels have to really start thinking how can they can maximize the value of every tax dollar they spend and not isolate budgets in silos like transportation and health.
We need to link vision with economic reality. We need to find the most cost-effective economical way to build infrastructure that is “good enough!”
Why does the public always seem to restrict its comments to the fringes of public spending, the one percenters such as art and bicycle paths and pedestrian bridges; while remaining relatively silent on the really big ticket items such as $5 billion for a ring road or $1.3 billion for a hospital?
If we are not confident the bureaucrats in government can make the right decision when it comes to buying a piece of art for $1 million or less; then why would we be confident they can make the right decisions when spending billions. Where is the public outcry to spend every tax dollar as wisely as possible?
Click here for more information on the history of the Calgary Ring Road.