By Collin Gallant on April 7, 2018.
An infrastructure pact signed between Ottawa and Alberta this week could mean Medicine Hat will receive $13.4 million over the next 10 years to help with capital projects that improve transit.
Local administrators were still examining the details of the announcement Friday afternoon of a new “Investing in Canada” agreement, but say capital grants are important to the departmental budgets and planning process.
Karen Charlton, the city’s commissioner of public services division, which oversees transit, says her department is examining a statement in a Friday press release that $13.4 million is earmarked for Medicine Hat.
“We’ve certainly benefited from capital grants, both federal and provincial, mostly for capital projects in the past,” said Charlton, adding that conditions of new funding are not known.
“It’s difficult to say at this point” how new money could be used.
Such grants are earmarked for capital expenses, such as construction or the purchase of equipment, and not operational budgets.
The transit department has been heavily criticized in some circles, even by councillors, who see it as being expensive to run for relatively low ridership levels. It was the target of a cost-cutting program last year that was eventually reversed when route and schedule changes proved widely unpopular.
However, the city has recently used some grant money toward fleet purchases, which would ultimately have been paid for out of operating income or tax revenue, if grants aren’t available.
Each city bus costs about $600,000 to replace, which the city does on a revolving basis with one or two new units each year.
In 2015 the province fulfilled the city’s entire $16.5 million capital grant request to the Alberta Greentrip program, money earmarked for improvements to the fleet garage, a system to accept electronic payments on buses and a ridership tracking system.
This week, federal and provincial infrastructure ministers signed a bilateral agreement to provide cost-sharing on the federal “Investing in Canada” plan.
It involves the federal government putting $3.3 billion forward over 10 years for projects in public transit, green infrastructure, recreational, cultural and community infrastructure, as well as rural and northern communities.
Federal funds are traditionally matched by the province and municipalities, which now will build three-year plans to allocate the funds.
The transit wing of the Alberta program, announced Wednesday, totals $2.01 billion, including a maximum allocation of $1.01 billion for Calgary and $870 million for Edmonton. That would leave $129 million for small- to mid-sized centres to split up.
Alberta Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen said the agreement supports her government’s infrastructure plan that already sits at $26.6 billion over five years.
“This historic infrastructure agreement provides communities of every size across Alberta the opportunity to drive economic growth and support families and businesses,” she said in a release.
Federal infrastructure minister, and Calgary area MP Amarjeet Sohi, said the agreement “provides the long-term predictable funding required to meet the needs of all Albertans, from those living in busy city centres to remote rural towns.”
“The strategic investments … will build inclusive resilient communities where everyone has opportunities to succeed.”
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