Friday, May 18, 2007

Fast Train or the Slow Road?

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach thinks a high-speed train between Edmonton and Calgary is "inevitable". When you consider how well these trains are used in Europe and Japan, it makes sense, but in the U.S. there hasn't really been a demand for such a project, although slower trains are definitely in use.

The idea of a train between Edmonton and Calgary would dramatically change the culture of the province as more people are connected more often. There is a distinct culture difference between the two cities and years ago, a drama professor noted a slight difference in speech accent with Edmonton being more farmer-folksy and Calgary more rancher-American tongue.

But I digress. What bothers me the most though, is the priority of this transportation project being brought forward at a time when the government has been dragging its feet on other ones. Why hasn't construction on the widening of Highway 63 between Edmonton and Ft. McMurray even begun? Everyone knows what a deathtrap it's been with all the large trucks and the exploding population of that town due to a massive increase in oilsands production and projects.

Make it a $5-10 toll road where it branches away from the other roads for all I care. I never drive the thing. In winter time, have dedicated fast-graders to keep it clear. It's mostly businesses that use it, so let them write it off.

For a province that depends so much on the oilsands for revenue, I can't understand for the life of me it doesn't maintain a better infrastructure to support it. And what about regular maintenance on the QEII highway and other secondary highways? Frankly, compared to the highways and roads here in Kansas, for example, Alberta's roads don't match up. Not even close. The Kansas Turnpike which runs from Kansas City to Topeka to Wichita is one smooth, well-maintained highway and when snow falls, it's cleared up right away by truck graders that move along at a pretty good speed.

Then there's roads in the cities. Each time I go back home to Edmonton every month, I take note of how terrible the roads are. They are immensely frustrating on me and my car. The province should dedicate more to helping cities deal with these problems especially because Edmonton property taxpayers are supporting roads which citizens of outlying cities commute through every single day. It's really unfair.

Except for Councilor Mike Nickel, Edmonton City Council, including the Mayor, were too afraid to go into debt by taking out a loan, as Nickel proposed three years ago, to build an interchange on the first intersection from the south corridor, the 23rd Avenue, Gateway Blvd./Calgary Trail intersection. Construction hasn't even begun on the dangerous intersection, which now has the most traffic accident occurances in the city, costing injuries, health care costs, insurance costs, and many other things. Three years later, the cost to build is likely more than if they took out a loan back then to start construction.

With the cities booming in Alberta more than anywhere in the country (and perhaps the continent), the provincial government can talk about a fast train all they want, but like with many things they talk about, actual action on any of their ideas always seems to be on the slow road, and its the citizens and taxpayers who'll continually be forced to travel to a dead end.

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