CBC Eyeopener Mayoral candidate debate #1: Calgary's airport tunnel

No surprise, I was looking forward to this morning’s debate on CBC Radio.  You can find it here if you missed it. 

The airport tunnel is a big deal to me on a number of levels.  I presently live straight south of the airport just off Barlow Trail.  That’s the very same Barlow Trail that’s going to get shut down for a new runway.  The very same Barlow Trail that I have used to go to the airport since I as a young child.  The exact Barlow Trail that I preferentially use when taking friends and family to the airport.  This affects me directly, I’m certainly in this game. 

When the airport tunnel first came up, I wasn’t entirely certain how the layout was going to change access.  I found this map on the City of Calgary website (pdf warning), which was reposted today by Naheed Nenshi.  It clarified my mind about where the link was to run and why a shorter access should remain a priority. 

Funnelling traffic to the airport onto Deerfoot isn’t a bad idea on the face of it.  Deerfoot is a major highway and is much more capable of holding traffic than the surrounding roads.  However, traffic jams are plentiful on an already congested road - one that can be clogged for literally hours on a stormy winter evening.  We absolutely need secondary and tertiary routes to give us maximal access to the airport. 

The proposal for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route to run directly to the airport is a fine idea in it’s own sake - I’ll encourage any sort of improved transit option in the city.  However it is not going to be the solution.  Please imagine bringing a rolling suitcase of stuff with you onto the back of a bendy bus.  Now think of it during rush hour.  I’ll take my own car, thanks.  Not to say in any respect that we should shy away from better bus (or ideally LRT) access to the airport.  It certainly has a role with getting people back and forth from the airport.  But alone they are not enough, particularly should the city continue to grow on the edges - and there is no reason to expect otherwise.

Lastly I remain convinced that not only is the tunnel a worthy secondary access point from the east, but I firmly believe we need to act on this now while we have the ability.  Building the tunnel after the fact would be expensive and very difficult with planes landing exactly on those steel plates they lay over roads when they dig up the road works.  (Ha ha.)  Now is the time, it’s time to find a way to make it happen.

My mind has been set on this issue.  I’ve decided I cannot support Alderman Hawkesworth in part because of this specific issue.  I’ve decided that I do no support Alderman McIver for other issues, but I am going to side with him and Mr. Nenshi.  There was little I was going to get from this debate.

Instead, for me, it became a matter of interaction and how three prospective mayors interacted and comported themselves.  It wasn’t great with the interruptions and talking over each other.

Mr. Nenshi came out of the blocks as I expected, firm with facts and ideas about how to get about building the tunnel.  He laid out criticism, particularly of the current council that lumped us back in.  I expected him to perform precisely as he had, to be honest, but I’ve been following his ideas closely for a while.

In a sense, I thought that Ald. Hawkeworth would have had the easiest time holding the contrary position.  I expected him to come out swinging his BRT proposal and specifying that good transit could significantly ease the commute of people on their way to work at the third largest employer in the city (if that stat is correct).  Instead I heard him point to an independent, third party report that the cost was $500M many times.  I’m scratching my head trying to figure out where the seven access points to the airport are.  They all appear to funnel to Airport Trail and that north section of Barlow.  His seven points of access seem really overblown and out of place.

Ald. McIver focused on future growth of the airport and the rising cost of building the tunnel later.  He rocketed off some wicked shots about single-sourced bids that strongly resonated with me.  His last minute of going after the province both sounded good to me because it needed to be said, but hollow because he was so much a part of this drawn out, poorly planned and hopelessly executed process of city council.

There’s little doubt that it was a fun and lively political debate - which is great for people who love fun and lively political debates.  Probably more heat than light, however, and although there are many people who like that I prefer illumination.  It set my feelings stronger than ever.

My concern remains that Mr. Nenshi has great ideas and expresses himself well within the realm of social media, but may not necessarily ignite with traditional voters.  He’s the only one of the three today I’m considering supporting, so I fully know I’ll be strongly biased towards him.  I felt that he drove the conversation today, at the cost of not letting Jim Brown moderate.  That may not be a negative if the conversation was truly driven forward, but I don’t feel it was today.  Perhaps that could be my perspective since my mind has been made on the airport tunnel issue.

Ald. Hawkesworth has some great points to raise regarding transit to the airport, and left them all in his bag.  I read Don Braid’s column this morning after I heard the debate and wondered why Ald. Hawkesworth stuck to the financial songbook.  I’ve always tried to teach my kids, don’t tell me what you don’t want, tell me what you do want.  Give me ideas, don’t just shoot down everything else.  It struck me that he was fixated upon the $500M price tag and stopped looking for options at that point.

Ald. McIver reconfirmed this view I have of him as hyper-partisan now.  Pick apart Ald. Hawkesworth’s budgeting (“You only get to spend every dollar once, Bob.  I’ve been trying to explain that for nine years.”) and his support for the Peace Bridge.  But Ald. McIver was part of that bad decision making over the past three years too, and is every bit as open to criticism of his own record.  I just do not see him being a conciliatory mayor, I see more fights within council and more of the “my way or the runway” attitude from him for the next three years.

Looking a little beyond, I’ve noticed Barb Higgins is up and running and I’ve been slowly working my way through her site, and I’m told Wayne Stewart has policy up now too although I haven’t looked at his at all yet.

I’m perfectly fine with Ms. Higgins saying, “I don’t think we have enough knowledge here to make a decision one way or the other yet.“  I’m not sure I’m okay with a whingey “We can only do it if we get money from the province and the feds..“  I haven’t made up my mind how I perceive her position yet.  I’m non-plussed so far, but I’m in the middle of figuring it out.

One thing for sure, I am hugely looking forward to next week when Ms. Higgins, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Hehr get onto monitoring spending by city administration.  I don’t have my mind made up for either the issue or the candidates.