Calgary's congestion causes clash

Transit and city road construction hot-button issue this election

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It's often said that municipal government affects our day-to-day lives more than any other level of government. One of the hottest hot-button topics in the past few elections has been transportation. The City of Calgary is responsible for maintaining roads, infrastructure and the public transit system.

The mayoral reign of Dave Bronconnier has been one riddled with expensive road construction projects and the continued expansion of the C-Train system. It's also been pock-marked with a continual uphill battle against the provincial government for funding. On one hand, Bronconnier and his council have definitely been getting things done, but constituents often complain of hitting far too many construction areas during their commute--which would be fine, if they were made aware of all these areas. Poor planning has meant Calgary drivers have had to deal with many unwelcome surprises, in addition to large-scale projects like the Fifth Street/Elbow/Macleod monolith. Combined with Calgary's seemingly exponential growth and accompanying congestion, this has resulted in a number of headaches for Calgary drivers.

The repeated headaches have led some Calgarians to park their cars at home and take Calgary Transit to their destinations. The system has been plagued by similar problems in recent years: trains are overcrowded and often late during peak times. The city has ordered more train cars and plans to expand trains to four cars to alleviate congestion, but has repeated that stations need to be expanded to accommodate the larger trains. This requires money the city must get from the province. Planned expansions of the C-Train line have continued, with stations at Crowfoot in the northwest and McKnight-Westwinds in the northeast nearing completion. Council has unveiled plans to expand train service with additional stations on existing lines as well as a long-awaited western line travelling up 17th Ave, but these plans also hinge on provincial funding.

Individually, the various alderman affected by these major projects have undertaken various levels of involvement. Ward 6's Craig Burrows has taken a leading role in getting the west C-Train line up and running, almost to the point of fanaticism. Despite criticism regarding the spending of $12,000 on an education course, Burrows has been an outspoken advocate for Ward 6, even suggesting the necessary demolition of the aging Ernest Manning High School could be a benefit for the community so long as the C-Train expansion occurs. With funding now seemingly set, the extension could begin construction sometime within the next five years. The other aldermen affected by train expansion have not been quite as publicly involved as Burrows, presumably because their wards already have train coverage and the line extensions had been in the works for several years prior to them entering office.

Overall, Calgary's city council has done an adequate job of maintaining Calgary's road and transit infrastructure given the financial and physical constraints involved. However, the city needs to figure out whether it's prioritizing roads over transit or transit over roads because, even with occasional bundles of money from the province, they cannot properly maintain both systems at the same time.