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Alberta Transportation has initiated consultation with stakeholders to craft what it calls a ‘long-term transportation strategy’, that will provide an over-arching vision for the next 50 years. Through a series of public forums and an online survey that will appear in late spring, this input will be used to help guide the development of the strategy.

As you can imagine, any five-decade strategy scope has inherent difficulties in offering particular insight that will be relevant at say, year 39 – other than commitments to safety, quality and value. These are easy; as every stakeholder would agree that Alberta’s transportation system should not be unsafe, that it should not be cheap or ineffective, and that the use of public dollars is not wasted.

The eventual strategy produced by Alberta Transportation has more impact and meaning in the first 5, 10 or even 15 years. A good strategy will set direction and guide decisions that are made in the shorter term, to set a course that leads from one right first step to the subsequent next steps on that path. A very real challenge for Alberta Transportation will be wading through the clamouring noise of competing interests – focused on addressing their immediate priorities, and recognizing what is necessary vs. what isn’t.

Before considering a vision of what Alberta’s Transportation System may look like in the future, perhaps the very first question to ask is ‘what do we want Alberta’s Transportation System to do for us?’ This is the more interesting and relevant questions we, as a Province, face.

There may be some who believe that Transportation systems should reflect our needs; in that there is enough capacity and capability to meet demand. I think of this as predominantly, a coping strategy. In this view, we increase capacity when evidence shows there is a demonstrable need. Think of it as planning by traffic count or a rear-view mirror perspective. In many respects, this perspective contemplates transportation systems as ‘enablers of economic growth’ like a follow-on consideration. The opportunity comes first-the transportation infrastructure/system second.

But is that really all we expect when we ponder our future? That whatever happens, just make sure the transportation system of the future can cope and does not become a limiting factor. Really? Just good enough?

That’s not a path we should follow.

I prefer remarkable. Instead of a Transportation Strategy that ‘enables’ growth, we need to think more about developing transportation systems that ‘drive’ growth – where the ability to move goods, services, and people differentiates us. Where existing business stay and thrive, where future businesses choose Alberta, in part, because its more efficient to access goods, services and people. Where those people choose Alberta to build families, communities and growth, not because that’s just where the jobs are, but also because the opportunities that make this province great are more accessible and our transportation system serves as a solid platform for global interaction.

That is what we need our transportation systems to do. To connect our communities, to integrate our economies, to inspire growth where growth is weak and to increase potential where growth is. A few years ago the Premier’s Council on Economic Strategy published Shaping Our Future and outlined a strategy for Alberta to move past “an economy of circumstance to an economy of intent.” What we need to do to win.

This is not unique. There are other jurisdictions in the world that have recognized the power and influence of efficient, integrated transportation systems, and are very successful at generating value from strategic investments. For them, transportation systems are investments in their future – as catalysts for economic diversity and durability. Global Hubs don’t just happen, they have commitment and purpose.

For the Edmonton region, the choices we make about our transportation systems are no less critical than the choices facing the Province. Our strategy must align, our intent must align.

Our legacy, with the economic prosperity we currently enjoy, has to be more than an extensive list of new to-do projects coupled with an ever-expanding infrastructure deficit on the old. We need a strategy that has a purpose – not just to cope -but to win.

 

 

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