A case of tunnel vision in Calgary - Macleans.ca

A case of tunnel vision in Calgary

Airports rank right up there with potholes and property taxes


When it comes to municipal headaches, airports rank right up there with potholes and property taxes. The complaints usually stem from expansion efforts, and the aircraft noise and car traffic that inevitably comes along with it. In Toronto, for example, waterfront condo owners are vowing to shut down five-year-old Porter Airlines, which has turned the once-sleepy island airport into a bustling regional hub.

In Calgary, the problem is road access. The local airport authority is building a new runway at Calgary International Airport that will require the closure of a key artery leading to the terminal from the city’s northeast. The solution that’s been on the books for years is to build a traffic underpass below the proposed runway, but it was only last month that city council, after much coaxing from new Mayor Naheed Nenshi, finally approved the controversial $295-million project. In general, opposition to the proposal has focused on cost and the fact the tunnel will serve a relatively small, albeit growing, part of the city.

Now the airlines are complaining. The tunnel is scheduled to open at the same time as the new runway in 2014, but WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky has said he’s concerned the underpass may raise unforeseen safety and security issues, bogging down the airport’s badly needed expansion, which WestJet is depending on to accommodate its own growth. While other airports have roadways that pass underneath runways and taxiways, most were built prior to 9/11. Saretsky has also cited potential safety risks, including the threat that planes landing in icy conditions will be in close proximity to traffic. It sounds alarmist, but airline spokesperson Robert Palmer said WestJet can’t afford any delays. The airport is operating at capacity and WestJet continues to grow, he said. “The runway is critical to both organizations.”


A case of tunnel vision in Calgary

  1. And their alternative solution is……?

    Tell you what guys, how about we just scrap the whole thing, eh? Tunnel, runway expansion, all of it. How's that float your boats?

    • I would figure the alternative to a few-hundred-million-dollar express TUNNEL would be a few-million-dollar surface ROAD.

      Here's a thought experiment: If millions of users of the tunnel would be willing to pay a $5 (or maybe $10) toll to save whatever couple of minutes (in order to wait 60-90 minutes in the terminal) for a flight, hey, fine, build the tunnel.

      Expected response: "What are you, nuts? Five bucks EACH WAY? I ain't paying that!" Fine. No one else should pay for you, either. Drive around and above ground, and bon voyage.

      • Perhaps you need to read a little closer. Where exactly would said road go?

        There's a road right now. That's the problem. The airport wants to take it out to build their expansion. The tunnel isn't for people getting to the airport.. it's for people living on the NE side of the city, so that they can remain connected with the rest of it.

        Personally, I think if WestJet and the airport want the expansion so bad, they can pony up the money to make sure the city stays connected safely.

  2. the "key artery leading to the terminal from the city's northeast" didn't just lead to the terminal. It was a "key artery" of the city. They're closing a long stretch of Barlow Trail.. this was a major artery that connected Calgary's far north east to the more central east section of the city, and included a number of feeder roads from the east side. Remember, we are the biggest city (in land mass) on earth. Our sprawl is absolutely phenomenal (and horrible, in my opinion, but it is what it is) so when you shut down a major artery, that adds some significant costs for people needing to detour around. The tunnel will allow people in the far northeast to at least access the other signifcant major artery, Deerfoot Trail in order to head south.

    • Thank you for that additional info.

      I always marvelled at the dumb location of YYC's terminal. The airport is northeast of your city centre, so they go and build the terminal in the east / northeast corner of the property. I am old enough to remember that 96 Ave NE was NOT the way to get there from downtown, but I do not know why it wasn't. Maybe it didn't exist, maybe there was no exit off Highway 2, whatever. So I have personally taken Barlow up to the terminal.

      So from your description I will assume the new runway is gobbling up land to the East of the current property. So why is it so bad to just build "New Barlow Trail NE" along the new eastern perimeter of the expanded airport? For all the (hundreds?) of millions saved, I am surprised Calgarians are even having a debate over it. What am I missing, Thwim?

      • The new runway will be significantly longer than the current runway and further north. Apparently having the terminal at the north edge of the airport was causing issues with taxiing aircraft. The new runways length and location will mean that there will be no east-west connections between McKnight Boulevard in the south and Country Hills Boulevard in the north, a distance of four miles. So it isn't simply a matter of taking Metis Trail to 96th to access the Airport, it means taking Metis to McKnight and onto the congestion of Deerfoot or taking Metis to Country Hills.

        The tunnel would continue 96th Ave/Airport Trail east. Without it the NE will be more cutoff not only from the airport but also the wider city. Replacing the capacity of Airport Trail would involve a very expensive project to upgrade McKnight and Country Hills into freeways,

        Basically, poor planning on the city and airport authority's part means something expensive will have to happen either way. The tunnel is reasonably affordable if built along with the new runway but will be obscenely unimaginable if it needs to be bored later. It is a connection the city will really want at some point, just for additional road capacity or for effective transit service.

        • Thanks, Robin. The new runway would run east-west(-ish) in this expansion, then?

          UPDATE: Just scoped out YYC's website. It's a very long parallel 16-34 runway ( running only slightly off from north-south). As Thwim says above, Barlow Trail is kaput (if they recently repaved it, all they need to do is repaint some lines because it looks like it's bang-on for a taxi-way parallel to the new runway).

          Intersecting runways (Calgary has three) are a recipe for inefficiency or disaster. This new runway makes sense. What doesn't make sense to me is the absence of a perimeter public road in the planning, while people debate gazillions for a tunnel.

          UPPERDATE: (Apologies to Coyne for vocabularical theft) YYC has published a map. There is, more or less, a North-South roadway development underway for the eastern adjacancy. And Country Hills Road is the East-West road to the North. Anyone considering the tunnel option (presumably to extend Airport Trail under the new runway to the East) should not be trusted with more than ten dollars of personal spending money at any one time.

  3. this made me want to crap my pants!!!