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All aboard: MAX Purple extension to Chestermere could come in 2021

Update: Calgary’s IGA committee unanimously approved entering negotiations. It will still need endorsement at a full meeting of Calgary city council.

Extension of the MAX Purple bus rapid transit could connect Calgary and Chestermere in 2021 if the city decides to move ahead with negotiations.

The matter will come to the city’s intergovernmental affairs committee Thursday, where councillors will be asked to endorse further work on an agreement between the two municipalities.

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According to a city briefing, Calgary Transit would extend bus-rapid-transit (BRT) service into Chestermere with two peak morning trips and two peak afternoon trips.

The report expected between 80 to 160 one-way trips per day. The agreement for the service is expected to be cost neutral for Calgary taxpayers, the administration report read.

Earlier this year, administration provided a report to council saying that the connection would still be possible for 2021. In October, Chestermere city council voted to proceed with formal negotiations with Calgary.  

The MAX Purple line runs from the City Centre along 17 Avenue SE (International Avenue) out to 84 Street SE. The distance is roughly 5 kilometres from the end of line to Rainbow Road in Chestermere.

The current MAX purple line. CALGARY TRANSIT
This would be the extra connection for the link to Chestermere. It’s roughly 5 kilometres. GOOGLE

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said this is actually a project that was part of his Master’s thesis done back in 2005.

“The idea was that we could sort of create more thoughtful connection to Chestermere,” Carra said.

It was part of a larger vision to see the redevelopment of International Avenue and the multi-modal bus-rapid transit that’s there today.

He said Chestermere’s current city government has been very receptive to the idea of intermunicipal transit options linking the two cities.

“So, we’ve engaged in a series of increasingly collaborative conversations about how to make that happen,” Carra said.

Importance for Chestermere transportation

The Chestermere feasibility report delivered Oct. 20 looked at three options for the service:

  • Express from downtown Calgary with several stops in Chestermere.
  • Peak period extension of the Calgary Transit MAX Purple line with a single Chestermere stop.
  • Combined version that saw extension of MAX Purple with several Chestermere stops.

The third option was the preferred option of Chestermere administration, and approved by their council. The routes would begin in downtown Calgary and go through Chestermere along Chestermere Blvd.

The recommended route through Chestermere. SCREENSHOT – CHESTERMERE CITY COUNCIL MEETING

The Chestermere feasibility study estimated annual costs to that city being $120,000 to $150,000. Their report estimated City of Calgary annual costs to be $170,000 to $195,000 annually.  The capital cost for Chestermere would be up to $21,000 per stop for a sign, pad, sidewalk extensions and a basic shelter.

Annual revenue for the service was estimated at between $73,000 to $146,000 annually. That’s based on a typical $3.50 Calgary Transit fare.

In their Oct. 20 council meeting, Chestermere councillors praised the effort to make the connection.

“I think it really speaks to partnership with our neighbors and also enhancing the quality of life in Chestermere,” said Coun. Ritesh Narayan, in that meeting.

Narayan noted that improved transit connectivity was something he heard during the last municipal campaign in 2017.

Mayor Marshall Chalmers said he’d spoken with other colleagues in the province and they suggested to start small and build as demand grows.

“What I see being put forward here is a very reasonable route and timing at this point in time,” he said.

In a letter to Calgary city council, Mayor Chalmers made the formal request for negotiations.

“Chestermere is committed to working collaboratively with the City of Calgary and believes this project will benefit the residents and businesses of both our municipalities.” Chalmers wrote in the Nov. 5 letter to Calgary city council.

Long term vision for East Calgary

Coun. Carra said that the initial idea today is to get the route started. In the medium- to long-term, there will be a full multi-modal build out as a BRT with separated lanes, like the current MAX Purple line.

The vision for the area is for a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) corridor connecting the two cities.

He said they’re in good shape to push the project forward as it would require capital dollars to build. There’s provincial transportation infrastructure money they could tap in the future to finance it. If the project is shovel ready, “we’re in good stead,” Carra said.

But what comes after that?

“The eventual fate of the MAX Purple line is to become the purple LRT line,” Carra said.

As the desire for regional transportation connectivity grows, more projects like this are ahead, Carra said.

“I would definitely say that this is a harbinger of where the region looks to be deciding it should grow and how it’s thinking about how it should grow,” Carra said.

The city is recommending council move ahead with the formal negotiations and that Mayor Nenshi send a letter indicating a reciprocal commitment.

The agreement would cover operations, routing, scheduling and fare collection among other things. A report is expected back by March 2021.

Mayor Nenshi said Thursday that should the negotiations result in a deal, there’s no reason a service couldn’t begin shortly thereafter.

The mayor said it’s actually a pretty big deal to have Calgary Transit deliver service to another city.

“I’m not aware that we have ever actually used Calgary Transit as the service provider to provide this transit outside of the city, so it’s a new model for us,” he said.