Changes rolling in for Okotoks commuters

Posted by on Wednesday, October 7th, 2015 at 11:30am.

The wheels on the bus will soon go round and round in Okotoks.

The long-awaited public transit service in the Foothills Region, connecting Okotoks, High River, Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Nanton with Calgary, is coming next year.

The Calgary Regional Partnership recently confirmed that the two-year transportation pilot project is scheduled for Fall 2016 and will make living in the Foothills region a bit easier for thousands of Calgary commuters who live here.  The public bus service will take passengers to the most southern stop of the LRT in the city.

This project has been on the books for some time and with the launch next year comes renewed hope that it will be a permanent transit solution that will connect towns in the Foothills region with Calgary Transit.

There is a working name for the service – On-It.

Funding the Project

The idea of a public transit service has been driven around the block many times in the past, but key stakeholders believe public attitudes towards transit service have shifted to the point that there is now critical mass to make this system possible.

The mayor of Okotoks, Bill Robertson, believes it’s a great move for Okotoks and neighbouring municipalities and was a long time coming.  He is concerned, however, about the cost.  Funding a pilot project is one thing but funding continual operation of the transit service may be prohibitive, particularly for the smaller centres such as Turner Valley which recently voted to be part of the transit project.

Town of Turner Valley councilor Dona Fluter embraces the service, saying it gives residents a chance to be more connected to their neighbours.  In addition to commuters, post-secondary students would likely use the service rather than moving away from their homes to go to university.

The town will hold a public open house for residents to review and discuss the transit plans at the Sheep River Library on Oct. 26 from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

So far, the regional network will be financed by the Alberta government with funding filtered through the Calgary Regional Partnership.  Once the two-year pilot is over, it’s up to the individual communities to come up with funding.

Robertson says they will use these two years to come up with a plan so that regional transit won’t be a burden to taxpayers in Foothills.  The more people who use the transit system between 2016 and 2018 the more confident the Regional Partnership will be that the plan is sustainable.

The plan as it currently stands would take commuters from Nanton up to High River, then on to Okotoks with a final stop at the Somerset/Bridlewood transit hub in Calgary.  Another bus route would originate in Turner Valley and Black Diamond with scheduled stops in Okotoks before continuing on to the city.

Potential Route

Looking far into the future, the proposed Seton LRT Station on the South East line would be just 15 minutes away. That eventuality would provide options for Foothills transit riders into the city and would alleviate congestion and possible reticence for commuters that might be holding back from using the service.

The success of this bus service may have a further economic spin-off, with new employment opportunities, investment and more new home buyers choosing communities south of Calgary.

The Calgary Regional Partnership is working on some long-term planning with Chestermere and Strathmore using the Nanton/High River/Okotoks system as an example of regional travel. 

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