Inter-municipal discussions are set to begin as MD of Bighorn council has signalled its interest in a joint transit feasibility study with Kananaskis Improvement District (KID).
The neighbouring districts, governing a combined population of fewer than 2,000 people over about 6,768 square kilometres of land, will look at combining funds in their 2023 budgets to review options for getting buses on the road and providing better connectivity throughout the region.
“I’m grateful that Kananaskis Improvement District brought this to us as an opportunity to partner with them on this. I do see if there is feasibility for transit in the MD of Bighorn that it actually might become more feasible if we’re working on it with a neighbouring municipality,” said Reeve Lisa Rosvold at the MD’s May 9 council meeting. “I think it’s a great way to look at this question that we’ve brought to council a number of times.”
Delegates from KID posed the idea at the MD’s governance and priorities committee meeting in March in the interest of tackling similar connectivity issues related to tourism, worker retention and meeting the accessibility needs of residents.
Bighorn Coun. Jen Smith questioned whether the venture would incorporate all of the MD, including hamlets east of Dead Man’s Flats, but also Harvie Heights at the western boundary of the MD.
CAO Shaina Tutt said that discussion will take place while developing terms of reference between the two municipalities to take place in the near future, but the MD would be looking to ensure it includes all its residential areas.
“The next steps, once we’ve got council support, would be for administration to begin to develop the terms of reference and then also there would be a form of a steering committee that would be developed between the two regions,” said Tutt. “It would be important before releasing any request for proposal for tender that on both sides there is a clear understanding of expectation.”
KID’s transit committee has expressed interest in developing a route focused on Highway 40 as the busiest traffic corridor and gateway into K-Country from the Trans-Canada Highway, with potential stops at Kananaskis Village and Bearspaw Kananaskis Travel Centre.
Suggestions from meetings with other transit service providers also included stops at areas such as Barrier Lake and Nakiska Ski Resort, and other popular spots along the highway.
It was also recommended that transit service be offered to Calgary, with the city being the location of the buses’ originating depot, maximizing ridership potential and fostering greater service viability.
Discussions around transit have come to the forefront of KID council in recent months, with a primary focus on the high volume of vehicles brought in by four million-plus visitors to Kananaskis each year and a lack of parking, particularly at trailheads, to accommodate growing visitation. Alberta Parks has also expressed interest in exploring transit further where it could enable better access to outdoor recreation while safeguarding natural environments in Kananaskis.
Transit discussions started in Bighorn years ago, with the MD at one point applying for funding through the province for a transportation study. It was awarded $15,000 to fund half of the study in 2020, but that was retracted because the study was not started in time.
That study was meant to fund the initial step of a cost analysis and a needs assessment to move toward establishing a new transit route or stops in the hamlets of the MD. The study would have also researched the benefits of adding regional Roam transit stops in the MD. Currently, Roam has local transit in Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise as well as regional routes.
In 2020, each partner paid $150,000 in Roam administrative costs, plus each community pays the commission for the cost of operating local routes including the cost to purchase buses. A report to Bighorn council in 2021 showed offering public transit would be too expensive, but a feasibility study wasn’t completed at the time.
A feasibility study will allow the MD and KID to look at different opportunities for grants to cut down on costs associated with public transit. The study will also identify what options would be available to meet the needs of residents.
Initial discussions suggest KID would contribute the entire $20,000 it has approved for a transit study in 2023, with the MD contributing $25,000, although Bighorn has approved an allowance of up to $50,000 and could increase its contribution if necessary.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on May 30, 2023