Province takes steps to fast track improvements to dangerous highway
Premier Alison Redford is taking steps to improve Highway 63, dubbed the Highway of Tears or Highway of Death, after a two-vehicle head-on collision near Fort McMurray killed seven, April 27.
Among the dead are Airdronians Faith Kondusky-Sennett, 11, and her father, Dan Sennett.
Redford named Mike Allen, MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo as Special Advisor on Highway 63, May 22, in an effort to fast track the twinning project.
“This government needs to do what it can to ensure Albertans who travel Highway 63 get home safely,” said Redford.
“This is about the province finding ways to accelerate the twinning while looking at other ways to improve safety for everyone who travels this highway.”
Allen will provide advice to Minister of Transportation Ric McIver, allowing him to report to the premier on recommended actions, including a timeline for completing twinning of the highway, by June 29.
“I have asked Mike Allen to bring a local perspective to this issue and to consult further with key stakeholders,” said Redford. “We want to do this right and we want to move quickly.”
Highway 63, which links Edmonton to Fort McMurray, is known for its deadly crashes. Since 2005, at least 46 people have died on about a 200-kilometre section of the two-lane highway, which has a high volume of industrial traffic heading to and from Alberta’s oilsands.
In 2006, the Alberta government committed to a $1-billion twinning project that would establish a four-lane highway from Fort McMurray to Atmore, located at the junction of highways 55 and 63, 250 kilometres south of the oilsands capital.
According to the Alberta Transportation website, 33 kilometres of the project have been completed, including 16 kilometres south and 17 kilometres north. Construction resumed May 13 on the 36-kilometre twinning north of Wandering River and will be completed by fall 2013.
Under current plans, about 50 per cent of the Highway 63 twinning will be completed within the next three years, according to the website.
Allen said the twinning project poses a number of challenges.
“There are many excellent ideas and new approaches that have been suggested, and we need to consider all options,” said Allen.
“I am also well aware of the challenges that we need to address so that we can move forward with this major project.”
“I am committed to safe highways and this is also an important investment in a region that makes a tremendous contribution to our economy,” said McIver.
“I look forward to examining all options that could result in a more aggressive timeline for completing the twinning of Highway 63.”
Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson is not impressed with the premier’s naming of a special advisor.
“Twinning Highway 63 should be one of the top infrastructure priorities in our province right now,” said Anderson. “They need to realize there are thousands of people from all across Alberta, including Airdrie, that use that road every day to get to work.”
Anderson, the house leader for the Wildrose official Opposition, added Redford shouldn’t have had to appoint a special advisor, as the local MLA should automatically act in that capacity.
“This should have been dealt with before, not in response to the tragedy,” said Anderson, adding the government should have spent money on the project, rather than allocating $2 billion to carbon capture and storage.
“There should be a master list based on objective criteria that details the top priorities in the province,” he said.
“The money should be apportioned to the top priority.”