On October 13th, the Highway 3 Twinning Development Association held a virtual town hall, updating interested citizens on the progress made regarding the long-awaited twinning of the road.
Part of the purpose for this meeting, said Victoria Chestner, Director of Advancement for the association, was in response to feedback that expressed concern regarding the lack of progress on the already promised twinning between Taber and Burdett.
“So one of the things we wanted to point out is that the process of twinning is not quick,” said Chestner. “The first thing that occurs is that the municipal government does complete a study of the regions. Those works are completed—most recently, I believe, was the Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek and the Town of Taber approved their studies, the only study that had been left incomplete was the Piikani Nation. Highway Three twinning did engage with the government to initiate the engagement with Piikani and that did start earlier this year. Of course, the engagement was just communication to decide how that study will go forward. So we were really happy to see that occur. I know that Piikani and the government are both hoping to ensure that twinning occurs through highway three in the Piikani Nation. The next item is environmental impacts, wildlife crossings, water protection, traditional lands, gravesite sensitivity; there's quite a few studies that have to be done after the functional planning study. The functional planning study is just an idea of how the road might look. And those costs associated with that. It's just kind of an overview of what could occur, not the absolute final design.”
The section has moved into the engineering stage, said Chestner, as well as the purchasing of the necessary land for the development to occur, as well as the coordination of any moved utilities and other necessary work before the actual asphalt can be laid. The association considers the section to be making good progress, with only a few landowners left to finalize.
From a government perspective there has been some difficulty with some communities, said Chestner, which the association intends to lobby on the behalf of as this project moves forward.
“The main thing was that there were some communities who did not agree on where the roadway should go. And the government really doesn't want to tell or force communities to have the roadway where they want it to go. They would prefer consensus, does that mean that they absolutely will do what the community says, not necessarily, and honestly, we can't speak to that, that will be 100% the government's decision,” said Chestner. “We are here to lobby on behalf of our communities along the corridor. I believe that the bottom line is to have it would be preferable, I think for all of our board representatives to have their communities have some consensus of what they would like.”
The cost of twinning the highway does continue to rise as years pass, said Chestner, as the Alberta government has sold land previously purchased for the purpose of twinning as it was seen as not an asset due to no progress. The Highway 3 Twinning Development Association has been suggesting for the project to be done in sections, as to be more cost effective, as seen with the Taber to Burdette section being developed.
“Another suggestion would be to engage in more land acquisition, to start buying up the land along the corridor, so at least they own the land, that would be a stage,” said Chestner. “There are many road projects in need of upgrades throughout Alberta, and hopefully this particular government will be interested and maybe even the next government would be interested in investing in jobs by investing our funding in infrastructure, new roadways as we go forward.”
The association is currently reaching the end of their current strategic plan, and is in the process of developing a new one to continue their lobby in years to come. Goals include growing their membership and increasing awareness of the issue as to better speak to the government about what needs to be done, said Chestner, which was part of the reason for the hosted town hall.
“After we had the twinning of Taber to Burdett announced, we needed to re organize our priorities. So we came up with our number one priority as Medicine Hat to Seven Persons including the airport runway realignment, Pincher Station to Bellevue, Piikani Nation Functional Planning Study, and Fort MacLeod stage 1-A, which is the only shovel ready portion of which means the design is done, land is purchased, it's ready to be started,” said Chestner. “While we do have an organizational chart, whatever that is, we are happy with whatever the government will do to move forward the twinning of Highway 3. So how do we get there? As we advocate to the government, we want to ensure that they don't look at it as a total cost to twin. We obviously want to be aware of that and have that conversation. But when looking at it from the total cost of twinning, it can look like a lot of dollars that they may not be able to come up with. So if we look at it in a piece by piece, section by section way, let's get it twinned. A continuous stream of funding is needed to twin over the next 15 to 25 years. We talked about the timing, and and what needs to happen in advance of actually actual asphalt on the road, we want to make sure that they understand this needs to happen now, even if what they like to look at as are our traffic counts, those are going to change by the time we need the asphalt on the road.”
The current availability of contractors makes this a good time to reduce the overall cost of twinning the highway, said Chestner, and that the association wants to take advantage of that. They would like to see Capital Project Funding, which is normally provided to larger urban centers like Edmonton or Calgary, move further south, to make safer, proper corridors to deliver goods to market and promote the development happening, as well as make it safer for everyone traveling the road.
“Probably everybody in this meeting has at one time or another traveled along Highway the individual lanes of highway three and have a transportation truck two or three in front of you. They are required to go 10 kilometers less than the posted speed limit, so they're required to go 90. In inclement weather, they have to go another 10 less than that. So when you're following behind the truck, keep in mind that they're required to drive a certain way for safety. And it tends to be frustrating for people behind but the alternative to that is trying to pass and we've seen that that has been very unsafe and accidents that occur along the single lanes,” said Chestner. “In addition, we have our farmers moving their equipment along on the side of the road, we have several ready to move home home builders along the corridor that are moving their their their, their homes, their their their units along along the highway and take up at least the single lane with the the shoulder and into the oncoming lane. Special permits are required for that. And you cannot do that movement at night most of the time. So there's a lot of reasons for twinning highway three, this is just a small piece. So what do we want to do? We want to align our advocacy with the government's strategic economic priorities, we want to increase the safety for all of the travelers along the corridor.”
Anna Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prairie Post East