Commuter rail top priority for MLA
Politics: Danielle Smith would like Highwood included in pilot project
By: John Barlow
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 02, 2013 05:58 pm
Initiating a pilot project designed to study the benefits of commuter rail in communities around Calgary is a top priority for Highwood’s rookie MLA.
With the arrival of the New Year Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose opposition as well as a newly elected MLA, outlined her top priorities for 2013 including a commuter rail service from High River and Okotoks into Calgary using the existing CP Rail line.
“I would love a pilot project on commuter rail,” said Smith. “There has been a lot of talk of a high speed rail line between Edmonton and Calgary, but I think the real urgent need is a commuter rail to outlying municipalities like Okotoks.”
Smith said she would like to see a commuter rail system use the existing heavy line rather than simply extend the LRT from Calgary.
“We know the plan is to extend the LRT line, but that will be costly,” she said. “We can work with the CP schedule and try make it work.”
The Highwood MLA said there would be some distinct advantages in that it would take cars off the road and hopefully build a new commuter culture with people moving easily between rural communities and Calgary.
Smith pitched the idea of the commuter rail system to the Okotoks Rotary Club in December and there were some concerns about the impact a commuter rail system would have on the local economy. By making it easier to travel to Calgary more people would travel to the city to shop and work.
Smith said the commuter system would work both ways. It would also entice Calgarians to come to Highwood communities to access services such as the High River Hospital.
In addition, a commuter rail service would mean more traffic between High River and Okotoks.
“I think you could see little clusters of community businesses start to develop,” she said. “You will see how Calgarians will come to Okotoks and High River.”
There is no funding in place for a commuter rail project, but Smith said she has approached the Infrastructure minister about the potential for a pilot project in the area.
Besides the commuter rail project Smith outlined several other projects she has on her priority list in 2013.
The Highwood MLA said she continues to hear a lot about flood mitigation and she wants to ensure projects in High River continue to move forward.
“I want to make sure flood mitigation projects, especially in High River, are not derailed,” she said. “This is vitally important in this community.”
Next she said the Foothills School Division has stated a high school in Okotoks is atop its priority lits and she said she will push to make sure it is high on the provincial government’s list as well.
Finally, she said with Okotoks council’s decision to proceed with annexation finding additional water will be crucial.
“I don’t know if they are even close to finding more water, but if they want to grow they will need to find it and if I can be of any help in finding a resolution I will.”
Although Smith said she is focused on what will transpire in 2013 she said she has enjoyed her first year as a MLA in Highwood. She was elected on April 23.
She said she has been impressed with the number of events which have been held in the community and it has helped her get acclimated to her duties as MLA.
“It has been a very different experience balancing party work with constituency work,” she said. “I have been delighted by the number of events in the community especially in High River and Okotoks. It has been really fun. The job of a politician has been fun.”
In Edmonton Smith said the Opposition is carrying the debate and she has encouraged her Wildrose comrades to stand up and be heard.
The Opposition has supported Premier Alison Redford’s government on seven of the 10 bills they have put forward, but they have issues with the whistleblower legislations, the Elections Act and energy regulators.